How do You Put Guilt to Rest?

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photographs boulders of snow piled up at Cass Park skating rink.“What about regret or self-blame? Or remorse?” my friend asked, adding something like, “You never write about any of these.” I took that thought home with me. For a whole week I walked around thinking I had an answer:

I don’t focus on the issues that divide or isolate people. I’d rather write about the things that unite us, like loving, living, dying, losing, and finding life is beautiful anyway.

Finished. Done. This was what I was going to tell her. But then, I kept coming back to her question.

My mind drew a blank whenever I tried to get around to the far side of what was bothering me. I told myself, it’s best not to drag up old impenetrable boulders. That it’s not healthy to wallow in matters that can’t be changed. That everyone’s got some guilt going on. So, where was my guilt? When I tried to concentrate, I got an icky nauseous feeling. It’s horrendously ugly and uncomfortable to deal with regret, self-blame, and remorse.

Later, I dug deep into my most conscience-curdling thoughts to understand what I felt guilty of and regretful about. What I found was not going to fit into a 400 or 500-word blog. It mostly boiled down to my not telling my daughter she was dying, and not saying, I Love You. In trying to protect her from the painful truth, I’d been dishonest. It’s history now. Unalterable. But I need to kill the guilt. Or make peace with it. Here’s my recipe for coming to terms with guilt:

*Excavate your darkest buried thoughts to find it, and face it. Accept what happened, and acknowledge your part in it.

*Then comes the hard work of forgiving yourself. Give yourself the same empathy you would give anyone else. Be kind to yourself.

*Remember, our mistakes are part of living and growing. They make up the layers of who we are now. But our past missteps do not define us.

*Consider what this has taught you. Figure out how you can grow from this.

*Finally, bring it forward to the future. Allow it to change you. How will you constructively apply what you learned, to what you do from now on?

In the same grueling week my good friend challenged me, other friends read my blogs and praised me for being open and honest. It all encouraged me to be even more truthful.

Guilt and truth are both brutal. Yet truth can offer comfort. I lied to my daughter. But I could not have loved her more than I did. I’ve learned that speaking the truth is a gift of love, and facing the hard truth helps put guilt to rest.

 

How do you deal with guilt? What’s the most far-fetched list you ever wrote?

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What They Don’t Mention About the Cold

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, photoshops kangaroos in the snow during the bomb cyclone.Just when you thought it couldn’t possibly get any colder, the weather channel challenges you with The Bomb Cyclone. A new term for winter hurricane, it means more cold. In your head you see scenes from the movie The Day After Tomorrow, where a super-storm plunges the planet into a new Ice Age.

There are things no one mentions about the freezing cold. How it makes you want to just hole up at home. How you crank up the heat to avoid facing frozen pipes. How you can hardly get out of bed with forecasts promising arctic blasts, massive polar vortexes, blizzards and blinding snow, damaging winds, temperatures hovering around zero, and wicked wind chill factors. Bone-chilling cold. You begin to understand the appeal of hibernation.

But sooner or later you have to brave the elements, despite the severe winter storm warnings. You dread having to dig the car out of snowdrifts, and scrape thick ice from its windows. Its engine needs warming up but you don’t dare sit in the car while it runs, for fear of carbon monoxide poisoning, so while the car idles in place, you shovel a path out the driveway to the road. And then pray as you drive over icy roads through blowing snow.

You dress in layers. Long underwear. Corduroy pants. High, SmartWool socks and waterproof shearling-lined boots with chunky treads. Hats, scarves, gloves. You throw on your warmest hoodie and downiest winter jacket with windbreaker shell and polyester-fleece lining. You’re exhausted from the effort of wrapping up when you notice your dog giving you The Signal. It needs Out. Remembering how the poor dog shivers, and limps on alternating legs in the snow, you dress it up as well. And you don’t dare let it go out alone because all the small rodents have frozen, leaving hungry coyotes out hunting.

It feels like every part of your body is shriveling in the cold. Your joints and muscles ache. Lips crack. Cheeks burn. Fingers and toes go numb. Your nose runs. It turns red. Breathing in the coldest air, the hairs in your nostrils stand on end. Your skin dries out. Hands and feet feel itchy, rough and flaky. If exposed to the bitter cold long enough, frostbite sets in. Or chilblains. And in the dark frigid winter something in your heart turns hard and cold, as well. Depression. Irritability. You become a hermit. You become a glacier.

Things could be worse, you tell yourself.

Somewhere in the world, say Australia, it is summertime. And if you were there now, watching kangaroos sleeping in the sun, you know you’d be whining about the heat.

 

How does cold affect you? What do you do to escape the cold?

 

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Another New Years Wish

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, photographs statue of Queen Victoria in Sydney, Australia.For my trip to Australia, I joined a tour group so I wouldn’t have to do all the thinking and organizing. But they planned everything so well, I lost track of some of the things I meant to do on my own. Like eat dumplings in Melbourne. And find the exact spot in the Yarra River where I’d tossed my daughter’s ashes five years ago. On my last night in Australia, in Sydney, by the time I finished with the scheduled dinner I was tired, so I let my last opportunity to do something from my personal list slip by. And in the middle of the night I woke up miserable about it. So, early in the morning, I crept out of the hotel and walked several city blocks to the Queen Victoria Building Plaza, to drop coins in the dog wishing well.

It was the wishing well my daughter wrote about. The bronze terrier perched above it represented the beloved pet of Queen Victoria. It used to talk. A recorded message thanked people for the coins that would be donated to the deaf and blind children of New South Wales. Now the message was gone and there was more garbage inside than money. But I felt good about accomplishing my mission anyway.

Turning back towards the hotel, I noticed the statue of Queen Victoria just yards away from the wishing well. I didn’t remember it from my last trip. But now the monument of Victoria was grabbing my attention like it had some urgent message for me. For the moment, I delayed the mad dash back to catch breakfast and the van to the airport.

All I knew about Queen Victoria was from the recent movie Victoria and Abdul. After years of cloistering herself away and wallowing in grief over the death of her husband, Victoria befriended a young Indian clerk who changed her way of viewing the world. She suddenly found inspiration to carry on with her life and responsibilities, and strength to reclaim her power to rule.

For this New Year, in a world where so much is out of our control, I’m wishing you, my readers, my friends, the inspiration and strength to take control of what you can in your lives. Life is not simply a series of events that you watch happen. I wish you the power to turn a bad situation around. To find meaning, or make meaning, when everything around you feels senseless. To fill emptiness with hope. To patch your brokenness. To reclaim your opportunities. And be the ruler of your life.

 

Where will you look for inspiration in the New Year? What gave you strength in 2017?

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