While waking one morning from a forgotten dream, I found myself thinking about the mistakes I’ve made in my life. Why was I dwelling on my failures so early in the day? I had no idea. It probably had something to do with the dream I’d been having. I lay there for a while, torturing myself with negative thoughts. Every foolish decision or act, long submerged in my subconscious, came bobbing to the surface like debris surrounding a capsized boat.
I got out of bed, but I was still down on myself, and I couldn’t shake it. I thought about that word, “mistake.” What did it really mean? A mis-TAKE? Something wrongly taken? I thought about one of my old mistakes, at Company X, when I’d screwed up on the job. It was my first decent job, and I’d taken something — that something being initiative. Yes, I’d taken initiative, and my boss hadn’t liked where I’d taken it, so I got called on the carpet. Never wanting that to happen again, I started taking less initiative. Later, someone there said I wasn’t taking enough initiative. At Company X, it was hard not to make mistakes.
But don’t stop now, I told myself. Let’s get this over with. What other mistakes can you torture yourself with? So I amped up my pity party, reliving one old mistake after the other, starting in childhood. Why hadn’t I stood up to that bully? Why had I stood up to that other, bigger bully, the one who then knocked the wind out of me in front of the whole class? Why had I believed those scary stories in religion class – the ones that traumatized me for an entire year?
Why had I been so worried about being popular? Why had I believed that I was ugly? Why didn’t I keep trying out for school plays after I didn’t make the cut in seventh grade? Why did I give up the violin? (Answer: to be popular.)
Why had I been such a lousy judge of character? Taken so many chances? Taken on too many projects? Dropped out of college with only one paper left to write? Allowed mean, manipulative people into my life?
Why had I spoken without considering the impact of my words? Why had I said no when I meant yes, and yes when I meant no?
Why had I let down my loved ones?
Looking back on my mistakes, and on my life as a whole, I don’t even recognize my past self. It’s like some other person inhabited my body back then and made those poor decisions. (And maybe that’s accurate. Probably all of my old cells have been replaced by now.) So why not forgive my (former) self?
I’m not that person anymore, I think. But is that true? Have I really changed, or am I still making those same mistakes? Am I too close to see them? Will I look back in five years and have misgivings about the mistakes I’m currently making?
And what, exactly, is a misGIVING? If a mistake is something wrongly TAKEN, then I guess a misgiving is something wrongly GIVEN, like giving one’s trust to a sociopath who takes advantage of you (yep, that happened).
My mistakes and misgivings have caused several misUNDERSTANDINGS. Now there’s another mis-word. Does it imply that to understand something, you have to dive deep, get under it, at root level? Ask questions? I think I’ll try that. I’m hoping that someday, while swimming beside this capsized boat I call my life, I can look back upon my mistakes, misgivings, and misunderstandings, and see them for what they really are: tiny specks in an ocean of understanding and forgiveness.