Tuesday, March 3, 2009


Life lessons often come in strange packages, not like in the movies--when a parent sits a kid down and has a heart-to-heart talk--although sometimes they come from the movies. While I don’t remember the title or the plot, I remember a line from a black and white film I happened upon and watched part of, in which a mother of several children says to one of them who is crying, "a person with inner dignity is never embarrassed." The line stuck with me and has become one of my mantras. I use it to remind myself that if I have inner dignity, I can rise above a potentially embarrassing situation. If I carry myself with dignity, I can walk away from it with my head held high. A situation is a moment, and not a reflection of me.

I don’t remember if I was a teenager when I saw this or a young adult, but would guess it happened after childhood, when I recall being embarrassed frequently and when I probably would have been too young to understand its meaning. How good it would have been to have this kind of self esteem when I misheard or misunderstood my first grade teacher who said something about snack time, not “it’s snack time,” which prompted me to take out my pink wafer cookies and her to come to my desk and tell me to put them away. It was an honest mistake and due in part to a language barrier I had then I think, with Polish as my first language and English as my second, and I don’t think Mrs. Fulton was admonishing at all, but to me it was horrible experience. I wish I could have crawled into a hole back then and for years following.

Fortunately, the movie line rescued me from remaining embarrassed about The Cookie Incident in perpetuity. Likewise, it has stifled shame in situations where I might publicly make an honest mistake, or get to the front of a check out line and realize I have neither cash nor the right card with me, or be in the company of someone who is a little drunk, for example. A person with inner dignity is never embarrassed, I remind myself, as I stand corrected or quietly walk away without my groceries or with a boisterous imbiber. This doesn’t make you stupid, or classless, or white trash. It’s a moment. You are more than this. You have dignity. Feeling good about myself is so much more pleasant than worrying and being insecure, and though I still have to work at it with other daily mantras on my way to work, more often than not I am confident and secure, and my inner workings reflect the fa├žade I donned decades ago.

A few years ago, when I was in Florence, Italy, I remember setting off for the day feeling just great. I was happy that I was there, proud for taking the trip by myself, pleased with my tan, and loving my outfit. Nothing could stop me, nothing could go wrong…Until I was strolling along the Ponte Vecchio, a popular and romantic tourist destination, and next thing I knew I was face down on the cobblestone and my packages, having become detached from my hands, were sliding down the bridge like a puck on an air hockey table. It’s okay to laugh. I do every time I tell the story. I actually made a call home to the states that night so I could share the story and have a laugh with someone. But at that moment, I did not laugh. Three men came to my rescue from different directions and helped me up as their wives looked on with a little pity. I got up, thanked them for their help, "Grazie, Grazie," I said, even though they too were probably American, and brushed myself off. Literally. I had cobblestone dust on my black capris, but fortunately hadn’t ripped them, and my hands were filthy from breaking my fall. My white crocheted sweater had somehow survived unblemished. I walked into the closest jewelry store and asked them to use their rest room so that I could wash up and check that I really was okay. Then I continued my day.

A person with inner dignity is never embarrassed.


Tam said...

I strive for this every day. I feel I will never get there, but you inspire me without fail :)

Tam said...

P.S. Gorgeous pictures - Basilica? Venice? Someday I will go!

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