There’s an ad doing the rounds that sells insurance with the idea of an “undo” button for a minor prang in the car, which got me thinking…how many of us have longed for an “undo” button for certain episodes of life? All those bad decisions wiped out with the press of a button. Goodbye to all those angst-ridden chagrin soaked sleepless nights, hello peaceful dreamless slumber which comes with the knowledge that you can undo that terrible decision…the one that ruined your life…or at least embarrassed you so much you could never show your face at that house/street/town/country again.
Some of them can be life threatening, such as insisting I was OK to drive with the family asleep and unaware while I drifted off and over to the wrong side of the road – thank goodness there was nothing coming the other way or none of us would be here to regret that! Also life threatening but a slower burn – so to speak – was my oh so 70’s notion that a sun tan was fashionable. Turns out skin cancer and premature ageing isn’t…oops. Less serious are fashion decisions like that see-through crochet dress or the crooked seam right down the front of my homemade wedding dress. It seems (pun not intended) that the 70’s was a bad decade for choices. And I certainly feel grateful that many of my relationships have managed to survive any number of wine-liberated remarks that felt extremely witty at the time, but were deemed less so next day. That might just be because no one was listening, or that I only mix with fellow wine enthusiasts who don’t remember what I said, or who I am! Thank goodness I have lived most of my life in the era before we could be electronically reminded of every stupid thing we did/said last night. And apparently it’s there forever! Thank you, fallible human memory, which allows me to airbrush out the ugly bits of my life!
Even if we can’t undo or forget the more regrettable episodes of life we still have a few choices of response:
- Get over yourself. You’re not that important, no one even noticed!
- OMG I’ll never ever do that again! N.B: important life lesson.
But for some people it’s not that simple. Such terrible things happen – sometimes through foolish choices, sometimes through the random awfulness of life, and that’s when they make the most amazing choice of all, to exercise the remarkable capacity of humanity to make gold out of the dross of tragedy. We hear every day of such supreme acts of will and courage shown by those who choose to transform their adversity into acts of goodness and hope and sheer guts for us all to share. We need look no further than the Paralympics to see and be inspired, and only this week I read the story of British model Katie Piper horribly burned by a vicious acid attack. Not only has she fought her way back to personal equilibrium, she has changed the parameters for what should be promoted in a Marks and Spencer fashion shoot. These people are game-changers, who shift our preconceived notions of beauty and athleticism and success, not to mention how to be a better person.
But those of us fortunate enough to dodge the tragic bullets of fate can still be inspired to be our own DIY alchemist. Even in my little and lucky life, that narrow escape from turning my family into road kill makes me think twice every time I drive anywhere and my visits to the skin doctor have turned me into the sun cream and hat Nazi for everyone else. If we’re alert to it we can make our humiliations work for us, as happened to me after my one and only attempt at roller-skating. This was in the days when I was still trying to keep up with the kids and prove I was more than just an endless source of lifts and vegemite sandwiches. Plus they looked so lovely – gracefully gliding around laughing and chatting. But when I tried it the big clumsy boots took it upon themselves to slip from under me and land me on my bottom – every time. Hanging on to the side and gibbering helplessly was not the look I intended and I will always be grateful to the pair of four-year olds who helped me back to the kiosk with some sympathetic there there’s and an offer of a cup of tea.
I vowed never to set foot on a rink again and I haven’t but the odd thing was that next time I was in front of a class asking questions, the look of shame that washed through the boy who stumbled over his words, and the subsequent careless naughtiness he threw out to distract us all from his embarrassment, was suddenly familiar. That was how I felt on the skating rink! And didn’t I make lots of lame wisecracks to deflect the pity? And how lucky am I that I don’t need to be able to roller skate in order to earn a living unless I want to join the cast of Starlight Express? Those of us who grow up with the great good fortune to find reading easy often have trouble understanding why someone cannot read a relatively simple text. I know I did. But once I understood that those kids feel hot with shame and embarrassment every time they are confronted with their failure – exactly the way I felt at Skate Arena – it transformed my teaching. I suddenly saw what a remarkable skill it is to decipher and interpret all those complex little black shapes, and found myself amazed that so many of us can read, rather than that some of us can’t. And I had a bit of an empathy transfusion into the bargain.
So embrace your stuff-ups! They will humanise you. Easy for me to say from the relative obscurity of my writing desk, less so for those caught in the relentless twenty-four hour news cycle, where all is remembered and nothing forgiven! Current Prime Minister Kevin “Lazarus” Rudd thought he was getting away with it. He seemed to be able to airbrush Julia Gillard from history and erase the last three years. In order to make such a seamless transition back to the cameras, he must surely have been practising the smile and the cringeworthy taglines every morning in front of the bathroom mirror. But as the weeks progress, it’s becoming clear that his magician’s sleight of hand isn’t enough to transform him or induce collective amnesia in the voting public. The polls are showing that any number of hand-shaking, baby-kissing, forelock flicking and gotta zipp-ing won’t alter the fact that he has some serious character flaws: egomania, hypocrisy and inability to see make-up girls as worthy of his attention to name a few. Personally I can’t bear to see his Tin Tin face beaming at me from the telly but if he rescues the Labour Party from a complete rout a la Queensland, and if some of the failures are sheeted to him and not just to Julia, his reinstatement will have some value for us all.
But we have to give him credit for avoiding what someone once called “buttock-clenching” embarrassments offered by the other side for our edification and for some of the few laughs to be found in the bleak Australian political landscape at the moment. In an all time low (or high, depending on your politics) our potential future leader Tony Abbott addressed a crowd of Liberal faithfuls at a launch event in the Melbourne electorate of Deakin declaring “No one, however smart, however well educated, however experienced, is the suppository of all wisdom.” Needless to say it has been seized on for a plethora of jokes of the so that’s where your policies come from variety so Tony must be eternally grateful to one Peter Dowling (aka What were you thinking…no really, what were you thinking?) In case you’ve been on Mars and haven’t heard, this Queensland politician, previously noted for being Chairman of the Ethics Committee!!! (Can this get more ironic?) Dipped his willy into a glass of wine and sexted it to his mistress. The now famous dick pic (!) must have felt like a gift from the PR gods for Tony because it got him off the front page and sent the ribald gags into the stratosphere and away from him. Coq au Vin, anyone?
In the end all you have is how you behaved at the time and you have to live with that because it’s who you are, indeed it probably helped you become that person. Having said that I still have plenty of “sorrys” to contemplate:
- Sorry I “liked ” the Facebook page “I wish life had an undo button” because now I’m inundated with cute pics of people and kittens doing silly things.
- Sorry Bob and I worked that weekend in our New York restaurant jobs instead of going to Woodstock…yes, it’s true!
- Don’t even get me started on pressing send when I should have pressed delete. But there’s nothing to stop you doing that right now!
Why don’t you post some of your own sorrys…make us all feel better about ourselves!