The demise of shame9/3/2014
Shame is the first to leave the room when the years come calling. No kidding. And this is after shame seemed like such a steady companion. A trustworthy sidekick. There it was, lurking in the corners when you messed up in the workplace, or in relationships, or with your kids. Shame was a deep well upon which to draw the oomph needed to go just a little further, work just a little harder, coach youth soccer while unfortunately encouraging them all to score a “basket”— that kind of stuff. No more. Shame has died a senior death. Good riddance, I say.
How do I know shame is dead? Easy. I drove to Denver. Well, more correctly, I was driven to Denver. By my adult son. To be driven somewhere is an inherently shameful experience. Why don’t you drive yourself? Are you not yet adult enough to accept the I-80 responsibility test? And, by the way, who is supposed to stretch out their right arm to catch the front-seat passenger when the car stops too suddenly? Apparently not me. I’m being driven. See…it does have the odor of shame all over it.
But, who cares, shame is no more. And, as the passenger, it opens the opportunity to give sage advice to your son about how he should live his life. Unfortunately, that door apparently swings both ways, and that kid, whose diaper you changed just yesterday, will try to give you sage advice about your life. Yikes. Slam that door. This isn’t about shame; this is about self-preservation.
This brings us to a moral quandary concerning the essence of shame. If your son does handstand pushups against the U-Haul while you’re trying to figure out how to climb down from the cab without hurting yourself, should you knock one of his arms loose when you finally crawl out of the truck? My strict ethics only allow such an act if it is accidental. Accidental certainly includes a small glancing nudge from an old guy. Where’s the shame in that?
Somewhere in the heart of Nebraska, my left hip became welded into my spine, and I suggested a stop at a fast food joint. We parked our rig at the back of the building. But before the engine was off, the manager came running out. Upset. And properly so. We had apparently driven across a recently asphalted piece of parking lot. The manager and I stared at the wheel tracks through his new asphalt. Neither of us said a word.
The manager sighed, “I’m not going to kick your butt or anything.”
I equally sighed, “That is good news. And, at the least, you should wait until we pay for our food.”
We both stared at the tracks a little longer knowing that our days of kicking butt were long gone, if they ever existed. So instead I asked him for a picture. Duh, shame is 6 feet deep.
This brings us to Denver. There we had to unload my son and his truck full of office and household items. A new beginning for him. Denver sits at the foot of the Rockies on the edge of dry dusty land. An unlikely metropolis growing out of ungrowable soil. Beautiful and harsh.
But everyone forgot to tell me that you have to be younger than 35 to live in Denver. Really? Or that you had to either get a cowboy hat or a hipster mohawk to be a resident. I didn’t know this. Or that we only had an hour slot for the elevator to unload our U-Haul in this adult apartment complex. Was this apartment complex really a dorm room? No matter. The roar of the freeways ringing the city provided a techno backbeat for all these happy residents. They vibrated with joy. Even my son beamed at his new home.
A day later, as I sat alone on my backpack in the Denver airport waiting for my flight back to Des Moines, I thought again of shame. The tear trickling down my cheek spurred this reflection. Self-pity for sure. Our children, our friends, our partners and spouses, all ebb and flow in and out of our lives. Impermanence and loss. Vanity of vanities. You get the drift.
And then I remembered the sight from the night before, as my son and I lay exhausted on the hood of a car drinking Gatorade and staring at the sky. A sunset to die for.
And the tear trickling down my cheek? There’s no shame in that, right? And if there is, what are you going to do? Kick my butt? May shame rest in peace. CV
Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines. He just returned from spending the last several months in the Netherlands, where his wife was assisting in the prosecution of war criminals. While there he wrote about being an Iowan in Europe. Joe can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.