I feel guilty a lot. It’s my go-to. Guilty if I take too much time for myself. Guilty when I don’t feel like picking up my kids for the zillionth time. Guilty when I’m tired. Guilty that I’m not doing more, more, more.
Guilt can be good. It can mean regret and we learn. An alarm that we’ve hurt someone. It reminds us to be responsible. But guilt can also be debilitating.
Guilt reigns in joy, tamps it down. Guilt gets in the way. You reach the bottom too fast.
My daughter is growing up, graduating soon and making plans. There was a university and college fair at her school that I assumed would be interesting and eye-opening. The word fun dared to cross my mind. I looked forward to enthusiastic dialogue about her future. Instead there was stress followed by guilt. What will I do? What should I do? Will my grades be good enough and what about the money? Is this the right thing or not? It’s a big decision. I’m lucky and I should be happier. Round and round. Yes to being lucky. Yes to having gratitude. But the guilt, the anxiety pops that bubble of possibility. Suddenly everything is a blur and she can’t see. I said, “It’s good to plan and maybe it’s okay if we don’t have all of life figured out right now.”
We hear ‘life is short’ a lot. I’ve known tragedy, lost loved ones, and my world has fallen apart more than once. I understand how life is, indeed, short. But I rarely find that inspirational. Somehow it makes me panic. Weighs me down. Another thing to feel bad about.
There’s an episode in The Mindy Project where Mindy is on a forced retreat, and Reese Witherspoon appears to her in a dream after she’s fallen into a cave and her hair gets caught in a rock (yes, this happens—S6,ep 7). Dream Reese delivers a speech about making better life choices and “hard truths”—how life isn’t like Sweet Home Alabama. What?! The episode ties up the speech and hijinks with Mindy’s roommate giving her this gem, “Life is long.” I sat up. Yes. If life is long, then I have time. Perspective. Space to enjoy, to be present. Make mistakes. Dream and then pursue those dreams.
Worrying and worst case scenario-ing, not quite measuring up is exhausting. I may never escape the guilt that drip-drip-drips when I’m tired and not everything gets done. But I can do life in pieces. Accept that I will not know every outcome and still hold hope. I can be honest with myself and others. To have limits is okay. We carry many feelings at once. There will always be obligations, schedules to arrange, and uncertain futures, and I will begin that busy day with coffee and a delicious treat. Learn valuable life lessons from TV. Spend time with good friends who get me. Enjoy the hour in a car with my teenage kids and appreciate that they are funny even if it is at my expense—I am sooo old. Fulfill a wish of going on a helicopter ride.
My partner gave me the gift of a helicopter ride for my birthday. I took a few photos, but I wanted to be present in those 25 minutes above the mountains, over the fields, and across that sky. Then be delighted that my boots matched the cranberry fields below. Life is long, and it is glorious to be here.
Heidi Cave is an author, motivational speaker and mother. She is devoted to coffee, family, TV and all things lemon; not necessarily in that order, but feels that all of these things are vital to a fulfilling life. You can learn more about Heidi at her site heidicave.com and you will find her memoir Fancy Feet: Turning my Tragedy into Hope in bookstores and Amazon.