I remember once, a long time ago, when i had made a colossal mistake and my family was worried that i had blown my future, my grandmother looked me beyond-angrily in the eye and said, “For a smart girl, you did a really stupid thing!” Then she took a few moments to compose herself and said, “Now, what are we going to do to make it right?”
It wasn’t the first time i had heard a riff on the “How can someone so smart do something so stupid??” bit. I was a smart kid, but i didn’t always make the best choices. I’d get caught up in a moment or a thought, and next thing i knew, i’d be getting the “What were you thinking???” speech from family or friends. Or, most often, from myself. And i rarely had a good response. I could tell myself that i got goaded into it, that i didn’t really have a choice, that it wasn’t my fault… But most of the time, it was one of those “It seemed like a good idea at the time” kind of things. Yes, that would include the time i read an article about the acidity of strawberries being good for stains… And came up with the brilliant idea to brush my teeth with them.
They were pink for days. I looked like some kind of dental albino.
And there have been times when i made mistakes that, in all fairness, should have done me in. Or at least sent me to a penalty box in the 8th circle of hell or something. These mistakes are ones i should have known better than to try. The things people warn you about, and you do anyway. And no, i’m not talking about my marriages. (Well, not most of them anyway.) I’m talking about things that harm ourselves and others. Drugs and alcohol. Self neglect and abuse. Lies to loved ones. Those mistakes really hurt. And as much as i wished for a Zamboni to come along and smooth the surface, the only way to right the wrong was to take my punishment and use it as a ladder to help me climb out of the self-made hell hole.
Mind you, i’ve dug many more of those holes than i care to admit. And i finally grew so tired of climbing ladders that i learned to stop digging holes. (Well, i try, anyway.) (I get points for trying, right?)
Life is a set of cabinets from Ikea. And it doesn’t come with an instruction book. So you do your best to put things together in the right order, facing the right direction, with the right screws. Sometimes, you make a little mistake, and you have to remove the shelf you just attached because it’s upside down. You get frustrated, you bang the screwdriver on the counter, and you curse all of Sweden… But you unscrew the board, fix it and move on.
Sometimes, you think you’re doing a decent job until you’re halfway thru and you realize you have already used up all the “A” screws, and the “B” screws don’t fit. This takes longer to fix because now you have to search in the bottom of your toolbag, as if searching for the last french fry, to find a few more screws of the correct size. But you do it, even if it means going to the hardware store to buy more, because you’ve got so much time and money invested now. You might as well.
But the worst is when you are nearly finished and you realize that you built the whole damned thing backwards and upside down. It is easy to want to give up, throw it to the curb, and let the scavengers have it. But if you do, all the effort is wasted. So take a moment, shake off the anger and disappointment, refocus and begin again. It may take more screws, some duct tape, and a whole lot of wood putty; but you can fix it. It won’t be perfect, but you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you didn’t give up. You put in the effort to make it right. It might always be a little wonky in that back left corner, but you did it. You finished it. You made it work. And you’ve learned your lesson: From now on, no more cabinet kits from Ikea.
My point is, we all make mistakes. Silly little ones and big bad ones. We can’t help it. We humans, we are smart… But sometimes we do really stupid things. It’s part of life. In the end, all we can do is try our best to correct what we can and learn from the experience. Turn them into ladders. And forgive. Forgive both others and ourselves for screwing up. For making mistakes. For being human.