Lessons of Guilt and Humiliation


I had an assignment at my agency I loved — helping my peers at work with personal problems. In most cases they came voluntarily but there were a few whose frustrated supervisors referred them as an alternative to formal rebuke or worse. My job was to help people face and assess their issues and guide them to good resources.

For most of the 18 years, I was rewarded with challenges, praise, gratitude. But there was just one time that a client frightened me and instead of recognizing I was afraid and taking appropriate steps (like ending the meeting immediately), I tried to deal with it. The fear clouded my judgement and I said things that were received in the worst light. The client sued both me and the agency, claiming mental stress and worse.image

I felt so guilty!  I’d worked with him a few weeks and we’d come such a long way. In 2 minutes I’d blown it all and caused this vulnerable young man great mental anguish, if he were to be believed.  I was terrified that if I reported exactly what I’d said and done, it could cost me this job I loved so.  But worse, I worried my whole reputation would be destroyed. I’d finally won the respect of my agency for high integrity and wisdom after years of flirting with its limits, and I was proud of it.

No one believed the client’s claims (which were exaggerated), but I knew the truth, and was devastated and humiliated. I suffered beyond anything I’d ever known. The whole thing dragged on for almost 5 yrs and every time I thought of it I wanted to die.  In the end, the agency settled and my own reputation wasn’t sullied in the least. Other people had more faith in me than I had in myself.  Even the lawyer who deposed me, to whom I absolutely could not lie, after hearing the whole story said that I was clearly trying to help the client and the mistake was in the approach I chose.

“If you tell it exactly as it happened,” she said, “people will really not be able to understand because they can’t get into your head to see what was going on there.”    She said to let her handle it — and I did, with a feeling of great relief for finally having told the whole story to someone.


Throughout my life, I have often felt humiliated by my own behavior and usually when it happens, I’m forced to examine what it was that led to the behavior and work to change myself. Humiliation and guilt can be great teachers, if they don’t kill you first! There were 2 lessons I took from this experience, both invaluable.

1)  We are often unnecessarily afraid that something we’ve done or said will ruin a good relationship, and that’s simply not true. Not if it’s truly good. “Don’t worry,” someone who loved me once said to me as I apologized for snapping at him. “I know who you are!”

2)  Fear is not anything to be ashamed of.  It IS something to pay attention to and do something about, whether it’s standing up to it or running the hell out of there! That’s one of the lessons of the “Me Too” movement, isn’t it?  Trust your instincts.  Believe in your feelings. If your feelings turn out to be wrong you can always apologize, but if you ignore them, you may do yourself, and others, a much greater harm.


Coe Mansion and The Planting Fields Arboretum in Oyster Bay, Long Island

What is it about a moving vehicle that encourages us to share confidences with total strangers? Or maybe it’s only true when the trip is a happy one, as the one I took yesterday via bus with a group of men and women over 60.    


It was a warm, on & off drizzly day with sun for a bit in the PM, but it was good enough. We toured the inside of this truly gorgeous mansion (I’m not a historical room person but this had me from hello), climbing winding staircases while hearing about the Coe family’s adventures.


Then we had a fabulous lunch nearby and returned for the PM tour of the gardens.  I love wild gardens – and these were that, plus some amazing trees with names I never knew, like all kind of weeping willow trees including cherry blossom ones (impressive even sans cherries) and so many species of hydrangeas, peonies and azaleas!


But I digress. Because it was the woman I sat with (behind me at first, then by choice, next to me) whose lovely face and quiet voice I’ll remember just as well, and the excited chatter of the campers/seniors! We shared thoughts and stories about problems and solutions related to living arrangements, family, health, I don’t really remember the words so much as the pleasure telling a bit about who I am to a good listener and providing the same for her.


That’s pretty much all I want to say except I almost didn’t go.  8AM????  My feet, my legs, my back, my laziness, my dislike of 90% of strangers I meet, my fear of fatigue on the walks, oy oy oy!!  Forget about it!  But…with a little encouragement, I climbed a narrow, winding staircases up to the balconies and 2nd floors … those rooms were so worth it!


But of course, perfection is not to be had in this life.  On the bus ride home, cleverly put off until the very last 20 minutes, an announcement that someone had found a tick on her neck!  A groan followed, more low-voiced chatter, a little fear thrown in, but by the goodbyes, all was forgiven and the pleasure remained.

I know all about tick bites.  As a child, I pulled one off a doggie that then made a home in my neck and infect-ed me with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (which no one realized at the time) resulting in various kind of maladies related to aches and pains.

But I know the best thing is to climb into a very, very hot shower and soap good everywhere, plus shake the bejeezus out of your clothing and shoes.image

With all that, I wouldn’t have traded a month of Sundays in my city apt for this lovely outing with strangers … and a new friend.

WordPress Daily Prompt: infect

To an Old Friend

I wonder if you feel like I do tonight. We spent the day together, reuniting after a long separation filled with hurt and anger, twin feelings that can do so much damage for so long. It was a nice day; the weather smiled on us, the park smiled on us, the walking together was good, the eating together was lovely. It was a pleasant day, no more, I thought. Because it’s hard to hold the past in your hands, even when you reminisce and laugh over memories that go back 70 years. As the day ended, we hugged and for a moment we didn’t want to let go. You said words like: “We have to be in each other lives … we are family…” but the words weren’t what mattered. For quite a while, my heart hasn’t wanted to open very wide; even today I kept a close watch on it. But when something gets through it’s for a reason, and here you are, despite the fact that we’re full of wrinkles and stories about our health and doctors and so on, despite all that, we could easily have been at camp in 1950. Was it your voice, its inflections unchanged through the years?  Is it the familiar way you say things?  The years disappeared!  But what does that really mean? Here’s what I think: when you’re young and you give yourself to a day with a friend, everything is a first. The friend becomes the rough path, the chocolate soda, the feel of a late afternoon. The friend becomes her freckles, her yoyo, the songs you sing together. Something so exciting goes into every part of your body and spirit, because when you’re young you haven’t learned how to hold back. So it’s giving of self without reservation, and what you’ve given that way you can never take back. The millions of times my cells have turned over — memories that can hardly make their way through all that are right here tonight. We’re in your kitchen baking cookies, we’re at camp walking with our arms around each other’s waists, fingers hooked in the belt rings of each other’s jeans. I hear our shoes on the porch of the Main House. I see the slick raincoats and the tack board, the darkened ping-pong table, the big tree with the swing. I see the baseball field to the left, the infirmary with the view of the lake through its windows. I see the game room with the piano against the wall. I see the jewelry bunk and I smell the oil and hear the cutting sound of the saw as we shaped the silver into scotty dogs and flowers. I see Frisky the goat under the tree and beyond her, the smells are rising on the path to the lake. I see the water as it flashes in diamonds through the trees. I can feel the air cooling as we stand in the candy line after dinner and hear the laughter of counselors grabbing a last few minutes on the tennis courts. I remember the love comics we read during rest hour and the hearts with initials we painted on the tent walls. And you and I were there, Jo, and so was Elena, and so were Liz, Evie, Nora and Gittle, Walter, Connie, Earl, Kathy and Fran, Steph, Hubby, Jesse and Vic. You are right. We fill a space in each other’s hearts that no one else ever possibly can, and I welcome the joy and the pain that comes with our embrace.




It’s thundering over the desert.
Giant waves are approaching the shore.
Mosquitos are bringing both Zika & Lyme
and the songbirds don’t sing anymore.

Bears in the Arctic are dying,
Honey bees leave flowers on the vines.
Frogs aren’t making the sounds that they should,
and our seasons flow outside the lines.

A world that’s without all its wildness
is a place that will never suit me.
I’d much rather humans be routed
than one frog, or one bear, or one bee.

Metaphor Behind a Glassful of Pills


You’re supposed to be a little intrigued by the title, and the photos fit – you’ll see.

So I carry my breakfast pills in a little green ceramic dish balanced carefully on top of the glass of “milk tea” or diet shake, along with whatever Jenny Craig breakfast they’ve doled out, into the den, where I flip the radio on (WNPR) and settle down in front of the computer to read my email and discover if the world is still there.

It works fine when the glass is a juice glass – my forefinger holds the edge of the little dish and keeps it in place. But this morning I used a full-sized glass. “That’s a little precarious, Ellen, don’t you think?” said the voice inside my head I never listen to. Sure enough, it fell in sideways and the pills went into the drink.

I was overwhelmed with feelings of stupidity and trying desperately to think of a way to solve this dilemma without losing either the pills or the nice, sweet/spicy tea drink I’d made, and suddenly I grabbed the spoon and fished the pills out  in twos and threes and drank them down quickly, leaving the tea unspoiled (the secret, of course, was that I was drinking cold milk tea, not hot).

I often think that I was given a good brain for one reason: to extricate myself from the trouble I’m always giving myself.  (There’s a line from a 1950’s musical, “Fanny,” that says:  “A wife is someone who helps you through all the troubles you would not have had if you hadn’t married her.” Of course it applies to all genders now!)

But also this morning, I saw into my future. That’s partly because with the coming of lovely Spring this year has come the one thing I hate: noise. My apartment sits above one of busiest streets in Manhattan: 1st Ave.  It carries an exceptionally large volume of ambulance, police, fire and interstate vehicles every day and night and I’m only 8 stories up, which means the sounds that come from the street might as well be in my den.  With the warm weather comes two additional offenses: car radios blaring through open windows and motorcycle gangs.


I think of one of our bloggers, Quaint Revival, and her mornings quiet enough to hear buds opening, and my increasingly fragile emotional make-up, and I know I need to get the hell out of here.  That’s the solution my good brain is giving me. There’s just one problem: it could change my life and my life feels precarious enough.

It’s OK for now, my life.  I have a few friends, I have my poetry class, my piano, my cousin and his wife live not far away and my nephew and his partner come and visit too.  I have mostly pretty good health. I still have my confidence.

I have my really swell apartment with its pretty view of the river and a breeze that comes in sideways. I have doctors and hospitals close enough. I’ve lived here 16 years, which means I know the drugstore on the corner ( they do all kinds of sweet things for me) the layout of the supermarkets, and so on.

Well I’m just thinking aloud.  Always a good thing to do when facing the possibility of a major decision.  So thanks for listening, and all thoughts, suggestions, experiences or other comments are welcome!

Oh, and what’s the metaphor?  Well, old age– you could say the pills have spilled into the glass.  Now I must think my way into the rest of my life: how can I have the things I need without losing all the sweetness and spice?


Continue reading “Metaphor Behind a Glassful of Pills”

The “Un-Cur”


Two little dogs drag their masters, who will follow rather unhappily so the pups can check each other out. Tails at the wag, they sniff all over, wanting to discover some- thing…but what? Are they hoping to find a lost descendent of a bygone pack their ancestors traveled in aeons ago?

But look again, how would that happen?  These are the Pomskies, Whoodles, Cocker-Peis, Mikis, Pitskies, Schnoodles, Horgies, Pugapoos, Chuskies, Chiweenies—even with their much-refined noses how will they sniff out, through all those permutations and combos, the scantest trace of an early-race progenitor, much less a pack of them?

Which is perhaps why they always seem a little let down as they trot off up the street to look for the next new buddy to greet. Let’s have these fanciful dogs get together and form their own new brand of pack. Spell it “Paque” if they must! They’ll design their own hunting patterns inside in the kitchens and yards of the HuChimps whose ancestors they easily smell and to whom, for a while, they’ll pretend to belong — until they’re ready to strike out on their own, with their tail-less, fur-less rumps held high, just as their untraceable ancestors might have done aeons gone by.

The “Un-Cur”

Two Choices

Falling asleep last night I had this thought: how is it fair that we only have two choices: life or death? More than a thought, it was a feeling. And I know I’m not the only one to feel it, because Americans are all about a search to get away from life without resorting to its unpleasant alternative.

Somehow in my half-sleep state, I knew, just for an instant, it’s possible to find such a place, different from all other known ways of what one might call ‘escaping.’ It would be a 3rd choice that embraced, not shirked, responsibility, a place where you could make things better, and in an artistic, enlightened way.

I think this pre-sleep feeling came from two strange bedfellows: the magnolia tree I saw from my window … and Donald Trump. However things turn out, Trump has come to represent, rightly or wrongly, destruction to me … and the magnolia tree in its fight to survive this crazy winter-no-winter-spring-no- spring season is both its victim and victor.

Like the magnolia tree that finally emerged in all its beauty, but for such a short time having tried and failed, tried and failed in the preceding weeks — we pay a price for fighting.  In my dream, there was a place where the magnolia tree found the sweet spot, the place that was not quite life since it was headed for a swift end, nor death, as it was beautiful—utterly unafraid and triumphant.

In my 3rd choice place, perhaps the magnolia tree’s petals could partake in covering all the destruction and hardship in the world as they fell.