When was the last time you were humiliated?
How about mortified?
I would love to share with you now a particularly powerful mortification moment from my past.
It went like this: A neighbor of ours was standing in front of our home. She was walking her dog and had paused to stop and stare at our house. The pausing had nothing to do with the dog’s need to relieve itself on our lawn.
Not even close.
Instead, our neighbor was staring at our house because it was covered in plastic tenting and affixed with signs that said “Danger – Keep Away.”
Let me explain.
We had recently decided to have our house re-shingled. The shingles were as old as the house and several different friends of ours, including some handy-woodworking-type people, suggested we have the shingles replaced. One of these friends recommended we get an exterior home inspection before doing any work, just to get a summary of what needed to be done.
So we did.
At the end of the inspection, a very nice man wearing a very nice uniform informed us we had termites. And not just any kind of termites.
These were the evil kind. The kind that eat your entire house and laugh while they’re doing it.
Because the termites were so well established, the nice man informed us that our house would need to be “tented.”
That sounds fun, doesn’t it? Like the circus! Like horses will be jumping through hoops while kids laugh and eat popcorn!
But that’s not the kind of tenting he was talking about.
He was talking about the kind of tenting that seals the entire house in order to contain the toxic fumes that annihilate the evil, laughing termites.
Those of you familiar with the five stages of grief will recognize my first response.
No. That’s not gonna happen. It can’t.
I’d seen those tents on other houses from time to time. It always made me think that something very, very bad had happened in that house. The house was so shameful, it needed to be covered so no one could look at it.
And now the nice man was telling us we needed to do that to our house?
I wasn’t having it.
So I did my research. I checked out the other options. (In the grief cycle, this is known as Bargaining.)
Yet no matter how hard I tried to find evidence to the contrary, all of my research left me in the same place.
With the tenting. Without the horses or the popcorn.
Once I had given Denial and Bargaining a fair shake, I tried out stages 3 and 4: Anger and Depression. These were primarily leveled at myself.
Why didn’t I do a pest report sooner, so we could have caught the damage earlier?! What an idiot I am! Now we’re going to be the pariahs of the neighborhood, with our house covered in a shameful shroud!
And while this was a fun use of my time, I finally decided to give it up and try out the 5th and final stage of the grief cycle: Acceptance.
In the spirit of this stage, Melissa and I decided to make the whole thing an adventure.
We had a retreat for Holmes Institute coming up, and we scheduled the tenting around that.
When the time came to do the deed, we stripped our house of all plants and foodstuffs, and we took our kitty Lucy to a kennel. (More on this in the next post!)
The Holmes retreat was held at the marvelous Ratna Ling Retreat Center in Cazadero. We bonded with our Holmes classmates. We were illuminated by our time with Revs. Edward Viljoen and Kim Kaiser. We chilled on the deck, watching the trees sway in the breeze.
When we got home, we stayed with our friend and neighbor Linda so that we could air out our house for a few extra days.
Being with Linda was like spending time with a fairy godmother. We stayed up late and watched TV. We ate whatever we wanted. We talked and laughed and had a wonderful time.
And then there was our other neighbor. The one standing in front of our house, staring.
I saw her the day we got back from the retreat. The tenting was still on our house and the warning signs were still prominently displayed.
As I watched her, I took another trip through the stages of grief.
Denial: She’s not really staring at our house. She’s just taking a moment to contemplate the nature of reality.
Bargaining: Maybe if I start coughing loud enough, she’ll forget all about the house and come over and give me the Heimlich Maneuver.
Anger: I don’t want her anywhere near me! I hate her! Why does she have to stare at our house anyway?! Doesn’t she have anything better to do?!
Depression: She’s staring at our house because it looks like a bomb shelter. We’re the laughing stocks of the neighborhood. This whole thing is horrible and depressing, and I’m going to die from embarrassment any second.
Acceptance: Wait a minute . . . I’m not dead. In fact, I’m still breathing. Maybe I’m going to live through this after all!
And that was the moment. That’s when I realized I could stare mortification in the face and laugh. Not an evil, taunting laugh like the termites who attacked our house. This was simply a laugh of relief.
Yes, I felt embarrassed when I watched our neighbor stare at our house. But that embarrassment didn’t have to control me. Indeed, I could step back and watch myself be embarrassed, just like the neighbor was stepping back and watching our house.
It was a reminder that I’m bigger than my embarrassment. Bigger than the termites. Bigger than anything I imagine myself to be.
It was a reminder that the Divine within is vast and powerful, and It can’t be harmed or corrupted by any experience or emotion.
Indeed, that moment made me thankful for the whole tenting experience. My minor mortification was a chance to remember who I really am.
And that, as they say, was worth the price of admission.
When have you been embarrassed? And how did you get through it?