Sunday, August 26, 2007

No Room for Mistakes

There are many things that take on added significance when you have cancer. When I lose my temper at my kids, it’s not just a moment that can get lost in a lifetime of moments; it could be the image of mom that remains with my kids after I’m gone.

In the play, “No Exit”, by Sartre, the characters are in Hell, but Hell turns out to be a place where they face their mistakes in life and torture each other about them. One guy died in a moment of cowardice and his torment is that he will forever be remembered as a coward. He is the sum of his actions, not his intentions.

We all assume that the way we live will determine how people will remember us. If we perform many acts of kindness, generosity, and charity throughout our lives, then that’s how people will remember us. We can be mean and nasty and have the intention to do better and be better all the time, but unless we actually BECOME better people, we won’t be remembered as such.

Normally, we have a lifetime to create the person we want to leave behind in people’s memories. And usually, a few mistakes or bad behaviors won’t condemn us as a whole.

The problem with having a shorter-than-average life span is that you have less time to create the person you want to be. If I’m a wonderful, patient, soft-spoken mother 90% of the time during a lifetime, then that’s how my kids will probably remember me. But if I’m that kind of mother 90% of the time over a MONTH’s time, then chances are, my kids are more likely to remember the 10% when I was impatient, frustrated, and angry at them. The shorter time span gives me less room for mistakes.

I’m thinking about this today because I had one of those Bad Parent Moments that you wish you could rewind and do over again. Josie was whining; Toby was crying; we had guests… I just lost my patience and snapped at Josie, saying I was going to ignore her because she was whinging. Then I just walked away. I wish I had patiently talked to her and offered her a hug, or tried to make her laugh and distract her. That’s the mother I want my kids to remember, not the snappy, impatient, annoyed mother I was today.

I’m trying to create the person I want my kids, family, and friends to remember, and the person I actually want to be. I’ve worked on this since years before cancer hit me. It’s a big project to become the person you want to be. And now I’ve just had my deadline moved up quite a bit so every mistake I make, like the one today, is magnified and sets me back quite a bit.

Now I’m wondering… do other people consider themselves works in progress or do people just carry on living day to day without thinking about how to make themselves into somebody they and their kids will be proud of someday? This isn’t a cancer thing. It’s just made much more significant if you have cancer.

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