370. What Guilt?

“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” Sir Walter Scott

Guilt:  a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offence, crime, wrong, etc. whether real or imagined.

In my business, since I work with human beings, I hear a lot about the subject of guilt, that nagging feeling of self loathing that convicts you when you have done something wrong or failed to do something right, assuming you were consciously choosing one outcome or another.  Growing up as a Catholic kid, I learned a lot about guilt and sin. You don’t even have to sin to be guilty if you believe in Original Sin, the sin of Adam and Eve that is attached to the human race. Then there are venial and mortal sins. Venial sins are lesser than mortal, as  you might guess. Mortal sins, unrepented of, lead to eternal damnation. Game over. Venial sins just put you in purgatory, which is like a moral rehab hospital in Catholic cosmology. You do your time and get cleaned up, purged, so you can be reunited with God. In the Middle Ages you could pay off your sins by paying church officials indulgences. I don’t think that program is still in effect these days.

Back in my St. Louis Catholic Elementary School days in the 1960’s I tried to be good or at least tried not to get caught being bad. A daunting task when you have three brothers and 150 boisterous neighbor boys trying to be heathens. The trouble was that the teachers and priests at St. Louis were excellent guilt peddlers to their young and not so innocent charges. All their work paid off on Fridays when Confession was held behind the secret curtain in a booth at the back of the fairly modern church, architecturally speaking it was modern. We would line up in two lines per booth. Little boys in crew cuts and flattop haircuts, white shirts, navy blue pants and a navy blue bow tie. Girls in white blouses and navy jumpers with white socks and saddle shoes. Quaking in anticipation of God’s justice uttered by an invisible priest on the other side of the purple curtain.

The confessional booths in our architecturally modern church were wired with sensor pads in the kneelers.  As you knelt down, a little light turned red outside to indicate “busy”. As you stood up, a light on the outside turned green, indicating “Go”, maybe to Hell if you had the wrong stuff to share. Now if you shifted your weight back and forth as fourth grade boys liked to do in order to have blinking lights bragging rights, the lights would blink strobosocopically into a blur of brownish orange. The goal was to run up more blinks than the guy before you had managed, without getting caught by the teacher monitoring you outside or the priest listening to kids confess sins inside behind the yellow lit sliding screen that smelled of incense and holiness.

John Digeorgi and James LaFrankie are the only boys’ names I can recall from those diabolical days. I’m sure one of us was pulled up by our ears in the midst of setting the blinking confessional light land record.  You see, it was a given condition that justice would be swift and harsh in those parochial school days. One legendary story came from the eighth grade class where Sister Josephine Stalin was striding toward a wayward bad boy with a paddle in her hand. The boy was trapped, away from the classroom door, so he jumped out the first floor window to save his fleshly behind. I don’t know if he ever came back. It doesn’t matter; the legend lives.

Anyway, I wanted to share the three guilts: True, False and Imposed Guilt. I defined true guilt above. It’s that awful, nauseating feeling that comes over you if you have a conscience, that motivates you to make the wrong you committed right again. E.g. you broke the neighbor’s window while hitting golf balls off a tee in your back yard. Hey, it happens. You feel fear, then some sadness, then maybe you try to think of who else can be blamed for the broken window, but there are ten other boys waiting to tee off or tell on you so you decide to expiate your guilt by knocking on the Coopers’ door and confessing your sin. Later you pay for the damage, thus ending the material and spiritual conflict.

False guilt, on the other hand, feels just like true guilt, but it is based on false information or incorrect thinking. For instance, when your unlicensed sheltie dog comes home in a blizzard with a frozen baby pig in his mouth… well, you know right away that Coco had run over to the Hades’ adjacent pig farm because we (yes, it was my dog) had no fence, no leash, and no sense. Okay? We lived like freakin’ hippies back then.

Well, because I knew the neighbor and had his two sons in school, I did the honorable thing based on limited information. I got my checkbook, bundled up against the blowing snow, and trudged over to their house, about a quarter mile away. I rang the bell, wondering what a pig cost ($200? maybe) and Mr. Hade answered.

“What in the world are you doing out?” he inquired.

“I’m sorry to tell you that my dog killed one of your piglets.”

He laughed a deep belly laugh and stepped back a few paces. “Come on in out of the snow. Your dog did no such thing.”

“Mr. Hade, Coco came home with a baby pig in his mouth. It had to be from your herd.”

He laughed again. “Not possible. Your dog could not get into my barn. It’s hotwired to keep predators out. He probably just got one off the pile.”

“The pile?” I asked, stunned at this turn of events.

“Yeah, when the sow rolls over on her young’uns, sometimes she smothers them. We just throw the dead ones on the pile out back.”

“Oh… I feel foolish. I’m sorry to bother you.”

“Oh, no, no problem.”

At least the wind was at my back on the way home. “The pile!!!” I was ready to write a check for big money. Stupid assumption! False guilt.Image result for i'm stupid face picturesImage result for math equations pictures

Finally we have imposed guilt. It’s also false guilt. The difference is that someone else imposes guilt onto you, usually with the words should or should not. E.g. your mother tells you, “You should have gone to law school, you little schmuck! Now look at ya. You’re a nothing, nobody, Georgie Costanza.”

The reverse is also used. “You shouldn’t have gone to Atlantic City, but you did, Mr. Bigshot. Now you’re broke and you suck!!”

The shoulding business is so common I have called its use, Suck Math. It goes like this–

You should do x.

–You didn’t do x.

Therefore, you suck.

The final product of suck math is “you suck”.  Oh, guilt mongers. I don’t have enough time to give you full treatment. See, I’m way over 1,000 words and feeling a little guilty that I stretched the attention span of my three faithful followers. And with their medication load, that’s just too much. So I’m just going to stop here.Guilty as charged.

 

 

 

 

 

 

175. Missed Appointments

There is an expectation when two parties make an appointment that it will be kept. When the appointment fails due to one party not following through, there is disappointment. Perhaps both parties feel disappointment, but definitely the one left holding the bag is disappointed. I’m in the appointment business. I meet around 30 clients a week and juggle 15 to 30 phone calls per week, plus an assortment of e-mails. I make mistakes. I hate it, but I do. It’s never a fun moment when two different clients are in the waiting room expecting the same appointment time. Oh no. It’s worse than mistakenly walking into the women’s bathroom, which I did in the Frist Museum in Nashville two years ago. I kept hearing this woman’s voice in there while I was in a stall. I thought, ‘Boy is she ever gonna be embarrassed when she realizes she’s in the men’s room.’ I was shocked when I heard a second and then a third woman’s voice echo in the suddenly huge vault. I knew then that my village was missing its idiot. I ducked my head and walked directly out the door and into the men’s restroom to wash my trembling hands. It’s also bad when no one is in the waiting room, which is a more common experience.

Let me think of famous missed appointments. They are hard to find because they’re not memories we want to recall. Guilt and shame cover these hurts. When I was preschool age, I believe, I have a vivid memory of waiting for hours on a Sunday afternoon on 14th Street near the Washington Monument for a bus that did not run on Sundays. My mother and little brother were with me. My mother kept looking for “11C”, the local bus that stopped in front of our suburban house. I don’t know why we were there to begin with, but eventually my father drove up in an old Buick and picked us up. It’s a strange and silent memory that holds much more, I suspect. I was too young to question my mother’s sanity at that point. Later that would come in bizarre conversations about things that, like her fantasy bus, would not ever arrive.

When I was in 3rd grade, I was supposed to be an altar boy at St. Louis Catholic Church and School. I went to the school with boys whose brothers were already altar boys. They knew the ropes, or should I say robes? Anyway, practice was after school and I managed to miss those by riding my school bus home to familiar turf. I could tell you who got on at what stop because of the twice daily repetition over several years. Bus F, Mrs. Reed was our driver for a year or two. Never an issue that I can recall. Peace rolled down Kings Highway, past Berkshire Drive, along the Parkway, past Virginia Hills Avenue. If we missed the bus, which we did on occasions, we walked the two miles to school. Like Jerry Seinfeld’ famous whine, “But I don’t want to be a pirate!” I didn’t really want to be an altar boy.

church ship priest

Missing… somehow I was supposed to be a priest. Someone thought that was a good idea for me, the third of four sons. I think it’s a leftover medieval concept. The oldest son was to inherit the estate; the second son was supposed to be a soldier; the next son went to the clergy; and I guess they ate the fourth or fifth sons during long winters. Missing out on altar boy life ruined my chances for the priesthood, thank God. I can’t imagine a more gloomy life than being a priest. I was more outgoing and spiritual than my three brothers, so I can sort of see the reasoning behind lobbying me, but that’s an awful thing to do to a young man. While the country was breaking out of its conservative 1950’s cocoon, I was supposed to be spinning a new cocoon of celibacy and self annihilation? Nahhh. I feel sorry for the guys who bought that package. It’s like buying your father’s burned out Oldsmobile from him and thinking that you now rock. Sad.

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Fourth missed appointment: I was supposed to maintain my birthright appointment and anointment of Catholicism. I let that go about 15 years ago. I describe myself as spiritually anorexic back in those days: I was starving for spiritual food, but all I got was ritual and hocus pocus, a promise of later fulfillment. I gave it forty plus years and did not see desirable fruit. Instead I felt like I had to apologize for the anemic modern ways of the Catholic Church and its horrid past theo-political exploits. The turning point came when I went on a mission trip with my oldest daughter to Mexico, which I had always believed was a Catholic country. What I found out was many Mexicans had the Virgin of Guadalupe in their front yard and had no idea about Jesus. It was superstitious hocus pocus that finally severed my spiritual umbilical cord with Catholicism. In a way it felt like a junior high romance that just didn’t offer a realistic future relationship. You can’t live in the past.

Truth be told, we don’t really know how many missed appointments we have missed in life. Unless someone tells you that you missed the love of your life or the ideal job or the perfect house, how would you know? I prefer to focus on the positive side of perception– kept appointments. In this blogging business I expect to meet my self imposed limit of 1,000 words per post. Somehow I figured that was my frame to fill. In counseling sessions my frame is an hour. (Writing 1,000 words takes much longer than an hour, folks.) I am currently engaged in multiple appointments that resonate with truth for me. My job, my family, my faith, my social life all seem to vibrate in pleasant, complementary frequencies. I am a contented man.

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