Elizabeth Willis Barrett
Morning comes and I rise with the basket already molded to my head. As usual it is full—so full that its contents flutter out and wiggle down my neck to keep me from forgetting what I carry. It isn’t visible to anyone else. No one knows what it contains. Just me. I need to do something about it because it is very heavy and it squeezes out the joy that each day should hold. I don’t think I’m the only one carrying a basket like this. Not many men would carry one, I’m sure. But women would. Women who are trying to do their best but always seem to find themselves wanting. And thus the basket, the heavy basket. It is filled with guilt. Not major guilt but lots of little feelings of guilt that get quite heavy when added together. I’d ask Brad to take a turn at carrying this basket but I know he’d be neglectful and just set it down somewhere and forget about it. He doesn’t feel a need to carry guilt on his head throughout the day, any day, every day. But someone has to—right?
Today is the day I should do something about lightening its load, though. It’s getting unmanageable. And my guilt for not diminishing my feelings of guilt adds to the guilt already in the basket.
So I take it off my head and begin to sort its contents like I do the papers and mail that pile into hefty guilt-producing heaps around the house. I seem to be a Pied Piper for paper and a Pied Piper for guilt.
Where to start? I shuffle through the culpabilities. Aww. Here’s one. Not fixing breakfast for Brad. Perhaps that can go in the needless pile. Isn’t he a capable adult? And shouldn’t he applaud me for allowing him to become self-sufficient.? Yep, get that one out of the basket. Why have I left it there so long?
I find scores of guilty words I’ve said, some formed into nasty criticisms or idle gossip. And some I didn’t mean to say. At times I was just making conversation and the words came out wrong. Any explanation would have made the situation worse so I just shoved guilt into my basket and left the scene. I think I can get rid of them now. I start a word pile.
Some of the guilt I carry is for not meeting my own self-imposed expectations. For instance, I feel guilty that I let my Christmas Experiment Blog down by not writing on it every day. It would have been so easy if I had just done it. And I feel guilty that I didn’t get 5000 hits on this blog by February 17th which was my goal. That means I didn’t write as much as I wanted to this year and you can hardly ask people to read your blog if you haven’t written anything new for a month or two. I extract those guilts out of the basket and start a self-inflicted pile. There’s lots more to add to this one. I pull out my exercise neglect, my cookie snarfing jags, my slightly over-indulgence of Excedrin—5 a week is excessive for me, and my under practiced guitar playing.
I give up sorting and just start pulling the guilt out piece by piece. I let each fall where it will. Guilt for staying in the shower too long morning after morning and wasting time and hot water. And in honor of showers, I find guilt for missing some bridal and baby showers, some receptions and funerals and kids ballgames, too. Here’s guilt for not having friends over more, not answering a letter, not writing a thank you note, having too much stuff and not enough gratitude.
I am working myself into a frenzy as I take new and old guilts from the basket and let them stack up around me.
Guilt for letting the front flowers wilt and the back garden become only two empty grow boxes containing worn out dirt and a few scraggly pea plants. And guilt for an over burdened addict (whoops—I mean attic!) that needs to be organized and depleted. And, yes, guilt for my addict, too, who possibly could have avoided that spirally path had I been aware of drugs and their pernicious tenacity. That guilt makes me pause and I feel the need for a Mountain Dew Voltage before I continue……. Ahh!…… .Since I only drink caffeine when traveling or in crisis, its effect is swift and I can continue.
I pull out the guilt about never hosting a neighborhood party. Hey, that’s not my guilt alone, I reason. And I’m not carrying this one by myself. I put on my running shoes—like I ever run (another guilt)—and stop at five houses in my circle. With the help of Ziplock bags, I distribute some of this guilt and I can almost stand up straight.
Back to the basket.
Here’s guilt about choosing to stay inside to work on projects rather than stand outside to visit with friends and neighbors. And guilt about sometimes walking past people that I know so I won’t have to talk to them. And guilt about listening to books too much and guilt about my wanting to listen to books too much.
I find guilt for not knowing much about politics, although I do vote due to some expertise tutoring. And guilt for letting the delicious oranges growing on our four orange trees go to waste even though we eat as many as we can and tell people to come pick them. And guilt for not having a complete and workable years supply.
The basket is full of my spiritual guilt, too. So many things I should do more of: studying, praying, serving, genealogy. Mistakes I’ve made in leadership positions that can’t be undone. Selfishness, procrastination, lack of charity, envy. It’s all in there, not to mention the things I can’t mention. And there is always guilt about not spending enough time with kids and grandkids. I pull all that out of the basket. I turn it upside down and shake it hard in case I missed something. Shake…shake…shake. And…it…is…finally…empty.
Whew! I am exhausted. But just for a minute because something happens. Something joyful. I am lifted. My soul is free. Even Heaven feels closer. I close my eyes and take it in.
Before I am tempted to put even a tiny guilt back into the hungry basket, I vacuum away the piles and take the empty basket outside. Into the big black garbage bin it goes, breaking and splintering as I press it to the bottom. It is finished.
And I am beginning. Lighter…happier. I float to the kitchen, take out the fry pan and make Brad some bacon and eggs. He can be self-sufficient tomorrow.