One would think after years and years of study and therapy that I would have a handle on my shame.
I was in a grocery store the other day and had gone through checkout and began the payment process. “Oh, we don’t accept that credit card!,” the clerk said. I dug in my purse and came up with $100. “This is all I have”, I said. So we began removing items from my basket to get the total below one hundred dollars.
Then I heard an elderly lady behind me tell the clerk, “I’ll pay for her extra groceries”. I felt small and humiliated! “OH NO! I exclaimed. I’m fine!” “No, no,” she said. “Just pay it forward.”
I was trembling and felt a shame and humiliation so old that I knew it was not mine. My father spent many years in an orphanage as a child and did not finish high school. He was ashamed that he worked as a laborer and would hide his grease-covered hands (daily grease that would not come out) in his pockets when he went around others. From him, I learned that accepting help from others meant you were less. There was a pride to this feeling that was ancient and handed down generation to generation.
I am a lot like my Dad. He would do anything for anyone else. His generosity with his time and, what money he had, seemed endless. However, I suspect he was constantly proving to himself some kind of self worth, he was trying not to feel less than. My Dad never seemed like he was trying to feel more than anyone else. I suspect he was doing what he could with all that shame handed down to him by circumstance.
I didn’t know I felt that shame. Everyone I have told this story to has replied, “What a lovely person that lady was!” Or “How nice of her.”
I am feeling fond of this stranger today and very grateful for her kindness in this tense and anxious world. I have no idea of her politics or religious beliefs. I don’t know if she could afford to do that kindness or not. I have no idea of her status in life or anything about her.
Yet, she was my teacher that day and still is. I learned about another part of myself and a deeper self-respect. I am grateful for her lesson to me in receiving kindnesses from others. I gotta practice that.
So, this is one of my versions of paying it forward by sharing this story with you. Letting you see my hidden shame and my joy in learning to receive.
Tag you are it! Now you pay it forward too!
Executive Director & Founder
The Estuary, Inc.