When my son was small, someone told him that he should not brag. I don’t recall giving that piece of advice, so I’ll place credit on either Magda Helmuth or Punky Thomas. Patrick did not want me to tell anyone that he had accomplished something, or been kind to someone, or overcome an obstacle. It’s not polite to brag, Mom, he’d admonish me.
I get that. I truly do. In fact, over my sixty years, I have taken “not bragging” to new heights — or perhaps, depths would better describe the direction in which I’ve gone.
In my case, and perhaps my son’s case as well, “not bragging” has surpassed the polite, small smile and modest murmur of protest when praised and fallen squarely in the putrid realm of self-deprecation. Speaking strictly for myself, I have spent decades assuming that anything which goes wrong is my fault.
I’m completely aware that living in a blame-based milieu will not promote happiness or goodwill, so I struggle to identify problems and solutions rather than to place blame and punish. But when it comes to my own shortcomings, and to difficult situations in my own life, I still embrace judgment. Charged, tried, convicted, sentenced: Jailed. Corinne Corley, you have been found guilty of crimes against humanity, to wit, gross inadequacy as a human being. What do you have to say for yourself?
A few days ago, a long-time friend and fellow Rotarian sent me an e-mail stating that he was smiling because he was happy to be in a Rotary Club that included me as a member. I laughed out loud when I read his words. Last night, another Rotarian hugged me as I got ready to leave our meeting and told me that he was grateful for everything I did for the club. I felt enormous tenderness in that moment.
As I gathered my belongings to exit the room, I found myself contemplating my inner mantra: You failed, you failed, you failed, you failed. I stood for a few minutes by the little corner of a triangular table which I always occupy. I stared unseeing at my laptop, the box of rotary pins, my little second-hand Coach bag, and the tattered carry-all that I got two years ago in the Kohl’s sales bin. My hands fell still, one on the table, one held against my heart.
I’ve told many people that I’m the type who grows off people. “You know the expression, ‘This grows on you,’?” I ask. They nod. “Well, I grow off people. Once you get to know me, you really will not like me.” I have plenty of anecdotal evidence to support that belief. People consider me the fair-haired girl come to save them when first they meet me. Months later, those same folks regard me with distaste. I’m less than they thought; I’m louder than they thought; I’m weaker, not as pretty, more disabled, not as smart; I’m too liberal, too independent, too needy, not enough, too much, not the right thing.
Two years ago my physical therapist sent me to the hospital gift shop to buy a pair of socks. The shoes I had worn that day did not fit snugly enough and she couldn’t torture me quite as surely as she craved. (I love my physical therapist.) I bought a pair from the only line of socks available in the shop, and my therapist and I had a lovely laugh about them. When I got back to the office, I took my shoes off and showed my secretary Miranda and the other lawyer in the suite, Jenna Munoz, what I was wearing. We all agreed that the socks rocked.
Oddly enough, I wore those socks to Rotary last night.
It’s the twenty-first day of the twenty-eighth month of My Year Without Complaining. I’m feeling a few growing pains, but life continues.