Traveling with my mother across Wyoming toward Salt Lake City, I droned on and on about a recent embarrassment, dissecting every disastrous detail, even though the poor woman was present when I humiliated myself.
A month before, as a student speaker at my junior college graduation, I had astonished both the audience and myself: During the random minutes not obligated to finals or my boyfriend — the current love of my life and thus quite distracting — I outlined, practiced, and memorized my speech. Then I misjudged my mental capacity and carried no notes with me to the podium.
Halfway through my memorized words, I ran out of them. Like a discordant music box winding down, I lurched between blurted phrases and agonizing silences, then died: “My fellow graduates and I have…my fellow graduates and… My-y-y-…………..”
What an impressive sight: eyes bulged, mouth agape, mind blank. Mom looked horrified; Dad hung his head until his forehead rested on his knees; and my siblings tried to appear unrelated. Twenty seconds of absolute silence crawled by while I stood mute, trying to reconnect with my brain.
Four weeks later, as Mom and I passed Evanston, I continued to obsess about the sea of eyeballs riveted on my stricken face as I searched for my AWOL words — until Mom abruptly interrupted my monologue.
“Janet, let it go,” she said with rather more force than I thought appropriate. “Learn what you can from the experience, forgive yourself, and move on. Dwelling on it does no one any good. Least of all me.”
I sat in offended silence for several miles, but over the years I remembered my mother’s words. Eventually, I realized I could readily forgive my friends and loved ones when they hurt my feelings, dropped cherry pie on my new carpet, forgot a commitment, or wore out their welcome, but I didn’t extend the same courtesy to myself. Finally, I began to follow Mom’s advice: to learn what I can from my foibles, then let go of them by forgiving myself.
But, forgiven though I am, I find some incidents impossible to forget.
As an anxious student teacher, I gazed out the window of a classroom still echoing with the clamor of recently departed students. Below on the lawn, I could see two robins fighting over a worm; I related to the prey.
“Mrs. Phillips isn’t angry; she’s just worried about Rose’s grades,” my supervising teacher told me, “Remember to greet her, then introduce yourself, encourage her to talk, and listen carefully before you answer. You know Rose and her work well; you’ll be fine. And I’ll be here if you need me.”
Then she added, “One caution, Janet: Don’t stare at Mrs. Phillip’s nose. It’s huge, and according to rumor, she’s sensitive about it.”
As I waited for Rose’s mother to arrive, I studied the construction-paper daffodils dancing around the room and worried.
Mrs. Phillips entered. I stood and stared.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Phillips. I’m Janet Bohart, Mrs. Miller’s student teacher. I understand you want to talk to me about your daughter’s nose.”
Forgive myself, yes; forget, never.