Shame, Blame, & Tomato Soup Stain
I’m in middle school walking down the halls, lockers slamming. Wearing my favorite navy-blue corduroy overalls with flare bottoms, a purple long-sleeve top, I thought I could endure another day underneath the flickering fluorescent lights on the high ceilings, the classrooms with the godawful green on the walls, an ever-changing, unpredictable emotional landmine of interactions.
Mostly, I did my best to be invisible socially, feel miserable internally, and excel academically.
At lunchtime, I sat on the aisle seat with my bagged lunch. I found some friends to sit with and chat about homework, our teachers, the new, very pretty girl who had joined our class, likely to become a cheerleader (she did).
Next thing I knew tomato soup like a red cascading shower poured down on my face and all over the front of me and my lap. What hadn’t soaked my corduroys, splattered onto the floor. The girl, whose tray had been bumped by another student, apologized profusely, then scurried away calling to the student who had jostled her. As my startle wore off, I grabbed napkins from the metal napkin holder on the table to clean myself and the floor as best as I could. Some kids at the table laughed.
A rush of emotions flowed through me including dismay, frustration, embarrassment, and resignation as I realized I would be walking around the rest of the school day wearing part of the girl’s lunch. Slowly soaking into my psyche just like the soup saturating the fabric of my outfit, I knew I’d be uncomfortable both physically, socially, and emotionally. I fought back tears. A few friends showed a bit of compassion, but then quickly walked away lest they be seen with someone in soup-soaked clothing.
As predicted, several kids made fun of me. They assumed I had been clumsy at lunchtime. I didn’t bother to defend or explain. Somehow, I got through the day. When I arrived at my parent’s house after the walk home, I felt an even deeper chill.
My attempts to tell my mother what had happened received a rat-a-tat, anger-filled, accusatory interrogation. “What did you say?” You must have said something to the girl? What did you do to her? You must have done something to her? Where were you sitting? Why were you sitting on the aisle? If you hadn’t been sitting there, this wouldn’t have happened. Don’t you know any better than to not ever sit on the aisle seat in a cafeteria?!?!” I sat silent in a swirl of shame. How had I not yet learned she was not ever the person to go to for compassion, kindness, or a warm hug?
After so many years of this type of accusatory questioning and shaming, I felt at fault, stupid, blamed for what I also knew was an accident.
The girl got bumped and lost control of her tray. She had apologized. I knew this. In many ways, the “cause” of the entire accident happened to be the student who bumped the girl. And none of this search for blame erases the fact I now had stained corduroy overalls, likely not to ever be the same even with the promises of laundry stain remover.
Yet, I kept looking for all the ways I caused this accident; how I remained the sole one at fault.
As many people would say these days, stuff happens; events happen that you simply don’t ever want to happen when you wake up in the morning. Most people wouldn’t ask for a flat tire, rush hour traffic, a five-car pile-up, their wife to be diagnosed with heart disease or to wear tomato soup on their favorite outfit for an entire afternoon in middle school.
So quick to blame and shame other people, some folks look a lot like my mother, unwilling to dig deeper, to pause, listen, and be curious about what happened, to offer kindness, compassion, to imagine what they might feel like walking around middle school with tomato soup stains down the front of their outfit.
Don’t our responses to the challenges in life become what propels us forward?
Sometimes attempting to answer the “whys” doesn’t bring someone back to life or protect us from uncertain life happenings.
Shame and blame seem a bit defunct in a multiverse.
In the brain of a growing child blamed for seemingly everything terrifying or uncomfortable happening around them or to them, this child might also begin to think she could become the cure, which is a fallacy, also….one of the many challenges of blame, shame, scapegoating, and gaslighting.
“It’s not personal” means I get to grow up the tiny child ways of thinking and realize I am not the center of the universe, nor am I only dust in the wind. As a fully developing human being, I can become a loving expression of wonder and delight even while wearing my sweaty running gear and smiling as little bird feet prints emerge on my face. I can cultivate self-compassion.
If someone you know is diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, loses their job, finds out their child has cancer, or a house burned down in a fire, rather than blaming, shaming this person, wouldn’t you want to offer kindness, empathy, and support?
There often isn’t one sole cause of much of anything because humans live interconnected to many people, the natural world, a cornucopia of experiences along with thoughts, feelings, sensations, unresolved hurts, and a deep, sometimes untapped, well of love inside of themselves.
Shame and blame interactions and energies distract people from creative, collaborative responses and an ability to transcend beyond the consciousness of the perceived “problem” which may not actually be a “problem” to be solved but could be a mystery to be lived, experienced, and accepted. And radical acceptance allows much inner peace.
Amid this multi-faceted, interconnected web of existence, maybe you and I can be and do our small part from courage, self-awareness, kindness, and compassion.
Maybe you and I can be responsible for our emotional energy vibration and the alchemy we do with the detritus we gathered and created along this human, soul-awakening journey.
Maybe each of us can do our bit of cleaning up, clearing up, waking up, and growing up with much love as our world changes rapidly before our eyes and below our feet.