Mistakes

(Transcript from the podcast The Second Page on the theme "mistakes")

I wanted to write a narrative about mistakes I’ve made. But honestly, there are too many, too many lessons learned, and too many that are just…personal, not universal. Too many that ride on hopes that someone will have done something similar—isolating any one tale just brings out the very beleaguered, trite platitudes that I want to avoid contributing to. So, inspired by Harris, I instead present my own confessional: a list of mistakes, flaws, problems, all running through my head this evening as I try to fall back asleep.

One: In my cynicism toward the section of my high school yearbook devoted to anonymous “I wish” statements, I may or may not have written “I wish people were not intimidated by intelligence” before realizing, in print, that the sarcasm would be completely lost.

Aside: This is easily the hardest mistake that I have to read out on this recording. Urgh! I’m SO sorry that ever happened

Two: When I first realized I was gay, I prayed to be changed by God into a heterosexual. This was easier than examining myself any further. I put those feelings away and ignored them. I contributed to breaking the heart of a girl I loved, and then nearly never spoke to her again until one day her childhood friend Ma’ayan stepped out of a car beside during my first day at Oberlin.

Three: I let myself hate my parents as a teenager. I expected compassion from them at a time when I was blinded from their own need for compassion. I did not realize this until I left them. I did not realize this until they left me.

Four: (redacted)

I wrote a very personal mistake here about losing touch with one of my best friends in college, about how I first got to know her, about who she is, and who I remember her as, and then I realized it was entirely too personal.

Five: I thought, as a newly financially independent adult, if I ate Chipotle burritos twice a week they would always taste the same. Now I lie awake at night afraid salt will someday stop tasting like salt.

Six: I ate Chipotle burritos twice a week for the first months that I was employed in New York.

Seven: I perpetually forget that how I see myself is not how others see me. I perpetually forget that my self-love is no reflection of the love of my friends.

Eight: I did not interrupt a man on the N88 bus from Jones Beach to the Long Island Rail Road when he began saying racist, homophobic, and misogynistic things. I was too worn thin to be one more voice in a tide saying that prejudice in any form is inexcusable. I censored myself instead to make him more comfortable.

Nine: I have forgotten about washing a bowl for so long that it made more sense to just throw it in the garbage than try to clean it. I threw it away. I threw a perfectly good dish in the garbage.

Ten: I threw up exactly once in a college dormitory, though before I had ever had even a sip of alcohol. I was too afraid to wake up my RA, so after a half hour of sitting on the floor outside his door in pain, I tied up the garbage bag I’d thrown up into and took it to a dumpster in the snow. I forgot that the door I left had no card access to allow me back in. I walked in my bare feet through the snow at 3am, trembling in pain. I should have just knocked harder on that door.

* * *

When writing this list, I could not help but notice that each of these mistakes are mistakes that involve regret. Are they still mistakes if I do not regret them? One dictionary defined mistake as “an action that is misguided or wrong.” As someone who does not believe in universal ethics, have I ever done something truly wrong? In my own eyes? If I learned from it, then did I do something right instead, that served to shape my life as I wished? If I’ve done something misguided, hasn’t it only served to guide me to this place and time, staring at the intersections of street lights on my ceiling, alarm clock reminding me of how late it has become?

I roll over, and turn off the light.

Sean Hanson