I love this image – it was taken in a back alley, behind the main street of the town where I live. I had to fight a garbage truck to get the space I needed to frame it. Someone has created a very elegant entrance in an area of the city that isn’t described as elegant very often.
I love this image because it seems to be a visual metaphor for life, at least for many of us, at least for me. I was in therapy many years ago and realized that I was carrying around a lot of shame and guilt. I was conceived out of wedlock, by two youngsters who did the right thing, got married, and lived together for better or worse for over 50 years. Somewhere along the way of my growing up I determined that it was my fault that they had to get married. I took on this burden when I was small and they were unhappy about being married and were taking it out on me. There is more to that story but not important to this story.
This belief that there was something bad about me ran so deep that it felt like I had to break apart my world to get my mind around a different way of thinking. My adult mind used the logic that I couldn’t be responsible for an act that took place before I existed. As an adult I shed the shroud of shame I had carried for practically my whole life. It was like a rebirth.
I had never been conscious of carrying this burden, but I know I’m not alone. Every family has “secrets”, things they believe to be so bad, so naughty, so ugly that no one speaks about them. There is an unspoken rule that this part is private – but everyone in the family knows, deep within their soul, the garbage is there, and they believe they smell of the garbage. Even after the secret is taken into the light of day, laid out on the table to be scrutinized, it is hard for us to see beyond our shame to find our real beauty. Carl Rogers recognized that we put up a facade because we believe if others see who we really are, they will be repulsed.
And as we carry our burden, how hard it is to be strong and noble. How hard it is to stand in the light when we want to hide our face in shame. How hard it is to believe that anyone could love us when we are standing in garbage. And being loved, believing we are loved, is absolutely necessary for us to flourish.
I don’t blame my parents or society or God or fate. Life just is. I’m thankful there were people who loved me even when I couldn’t believe them. I’m thankful there were people who believed in me even when I couldn’t believe in myself. I’m thankful that I was born with intelligence and resilience so I could pretend to be okay even when I wasn’t. I’m thankful for the capacity for emotional healing. I’m thankful for all the ways we can have integrity in the back alleys of life. These back alleys don’t define us, but they keep us humble.