Remember being dressed up in a new outfit, new shoes, cleaned and sparkling from head to toe, with Mom’s smiling approval? On the way to some social event, if only at Grandma’s house for holiday festivities? Then within the first hour disaster strikes and somehow you have to spend the rest of the day looking at some horrible stain on snow white shirt, fancy pants, or new dress? Worse part is, it wasn’t actually your fault, but Mom’s smile has turned to a frown of disapproval or disappointment, each and every time she looks over at you.
Those looks haunt you, even years later, because they are a moment when you knew you didn’t have that approval that made you feel secure, safe in a world that was, for the most part, quite overwhelming at times. It would be great if there was some sort of All Purpose stain remover that could be applied to the memory, remove the stain, and let life go on without it.
A few days ago I wrote, in a poem (Only Lightly Grasped), about the stain of sin on a precious white soul, that the nuns of my childhood told us about. They knew their stuff. Knew of that almost universal experience and its consequences and affects on young and impressionable children. Knew it and used it to create an image that is quite haunting and somewhat daunting to deal with.
In the poem, I compared that stain, that image, with writing words on white paper. But, the writing is a stain remover, one that actually works. Being a child means making mistakes both large and small. Making mistakes is simply an inherent part of the process of learning and growing. Yes, it can be avoided on occasion, but never completely. And those mistakes leave a stain on the soul and in the memory. Not just stains, but sometimes scars on that developing psyche.
The word sin actually means, missing the mark, ie. mis-take. It does not mean evil, wicked, or hell-bound for a surety. Those definitions came later, and depend on the particular view of the speaker using the word. It simply means missing the mark, and because it does, it also means that one might do better to change ones trajectory so that it doesn’t happen again. Which means there is always hope that with practice, little or much depending on circumstances, one may eventually hit the mark and move on to other things.
Yes, I know there are Big and Little sins, but regardless of the adjective placed before it, the sin still means the target has been missed and its best to try again, or walk away and not even make the attempt. That also depends on the individual and is therefore, a matter of personal choice.
It took me years to discover this small bit of reality, the meaning of the word made a world of difference to my sense of self, as well as the past I carried with me no matter where I went, or what I was engaged in at any given moment. With that discovery came the realization that if sin was a mistake, a missing of the mark, then I could possibly find a few ways to undo what was irritating and disappointing in my past, and maybe even put that smile back on my Mother’s face. Wow, that was a freeing moment of enlightenment.
Simply put, it meant I could actually go back and correct the trajectory, change my aim, and remove some of those stains the nuns spoke about. For a while, if I’m to be honest, it meant I could thumb my nose at those black clad women who sometimes haunted my dreams even into adulthood. Eventually, however, I had to admit and acknowledge that the image they used, was also a key into redefining my life experience. Which meant that I could actually thank them profusely for supplying it. Hell of a turn around, that was.
So, how does this all work? We do remember every moment of our existence. Each one is stored somewhere inside of us. Some of those memories have the power to make us wince, feel shame or embarrassment, even years after the experience. They can prevent us from moving freely through our lives. Tie us up in knots that don’t allow any form of forward progress.
The first step, always the most difficult, is to take them out from that dark space inside our person. Bring them out into the light of today, rather than leaving them in the shadows of yesterday. Hang them on a clothesline and let the fresh air get all that musty smell off of them. We do that by writing them down on a piece of paper. Yes, making another stain, this one with focus and deliberate purpose. This is the stain of new beginnings, new avenues to explore, new images to record and to learn from. This is the stain of hope. Hope of change, perhaps of renewal and even rebirth, new uses, and purposes and possibilities.
None of that will happen if we just walk away and leave them. That old stain will always remain, and with it, the discomfort of emotions that attend all such things. And there is also the fear of what such exposure can bring. It is the inherent value of a personal journal that allows that risk. But also allows the fresh air and sunlight such an airing provides. That reduces the risk to time and energy spent. Not a bad price for stain removal and possible renewal in the bargain.
Do you have a new outfit for the holidays? Something really special that might even make your Mom’s eyes sparkle with approval and regard? Wear it with confidence, let it inform you that all things are possible if you want them enough. But also remember, if some clown comes along and dumps his dinner plate in your lap, you can go home, and remove the stain, begin the process that could allow you to be a new person in the coming New Year. Trust yourself and the stain remover, it works. Happy Holidays to one and all.