On Sunday, I went to hear Maya Angelou speak. It was stunning to see her on stage, this beautiful and, yes, old woman who struggled to stand on her age-weary knees, yet was the embodiment of grace and poise. It was wonderful to hear her stories of growing up, stories of becoming famous, stories of becoming wise and then wiser. Her poems, of course, are incredible and brave and many times funny. She reads them not just like a poet, but as a spoken word artist putting her body and her powers of expression into every line. I laughed, I cried, and I've been thinking a lot about a few things she said, and especially about this thing she said:

Guilt is a tedious companion.

She said that, and then she repeated it: Guilt is a tedious companion. And then she said: If you find yourself living with this companion, this guilt, give over.

Give over.

And right away my throat tightened and tears came to my eyes. While my mind raced to figure out why these words resonated so strongly for me, my heart had already answered the question in it's steady and sure voice: I feel guilty about my illness and the way it impacts the people I love.

Guilt is my tedious companion when I have to say no to my kids: No, I can't push you on the swings. No, I can't carry you to bed. No, I can't go on your field trip to the nature center. No, I can't get the knot out of your shoe. No, I can't go pick up your friend and have him over to play.

Guilt is my tedious companion when I have to ask for help: Husband, will you get the salad bowl down for me? Friend, will you go to Target for me? Friend, will you drive The Bean home from book club? Babysitter, will you help me take the kids to the library? Mom, will you bring some meals for my freezer?

Guilt is my tedious companion when I have to say no to people recruiting volunteers at school and at church: No, I can't help unload books for the book fair. No, I can't help set up tables for the project fair. No, I can't help plant the gardens. No, I can't help clean the sanctuary.

Guilt is my tedious companion when I consider all the extra money we spend because of my illness: Money to pay for doctor's appointments and prescriptions. Money to pay for someone to clean the house. Money to pay for grocery deliveries. Money to pay for someone to help with the laundry, the snow removal, the home-improvement projects (rare though they are), the gardening. Basically, money to pay for all the money-saving things we thought I would do as a stay-at-home-parent.

Guilt means: 1. the fact of having committed an offence or crime 2. a feeling of having done wrong or failed in an obligation (ding! ding! ding! we have a winner!). It comes from the Old English gylt (of unknown origin): crime, sin, fault, fine.

Believe me, I know I should not feel guilty about my illness, the limits it creates for our family, the strains it puts on our finances. There is no offence, no crime, no culpability. There is no wrongdoing. Just some unfortunate circumstances. Bad luck. And yet, I still feel that I have failed in an obligation: my obligation as wife, mother, daughter, and friend. Before I heard Maya Angelou say, "Guilt is a tedious companion," I don't think I even realized I felt guilty for all the things I can't or don't do, and for all the needs I have related to my illness.

Starting now, I am Giving Over.

Giving over to sadness, disappointment, and even sometimes discouragement. But no guilt. Giving over to the realities of life with "severe inflammatory arthritis with a mild lupus suggestion," to its limits and requirements. But no guilt. Giving over to the blessings of illness. Yes there are some: a slower pace of life, a communion with my body, a web of family and friends who help me when I need help and who keep me going when I am weary. But no guilt.

Dear Guilt, dear Tedious Companion, you and I are through. You are a waste of my time and energy.

I am Giving Over.


CitricSugar said...

Beautifully written, Molly.

Gerry said...

Dear Molly--I will tell you a secret. All women, at least all of us who chose, as you did, as I did, to be "stay-at-home moms," have carried Guilt around on our backs. We have done this for reasons so old and so convoluted and so complicated that we will never figure them out in my lifetime, although who knows, perhaps in yours! It is pointless, yet brave, to do so.

Love your life. And keep writing.

Ms. WK said...

In a most obnoxious voice:

I saw Maya A. a few years ago-- what a blessing! I am so glad you got to go!


Stephanie said...

This is beautifully written.