There are times in my life when I make mistakes, big mistakes that can haunt me for a long time. Now this morning I made a mistake, and though it isn’t in the “big mistake” league, it does have the same feelings associated with it and I want to look at that and tease out what is going on.

So it is Hogmanay morning which is a Saturday this year and my wife and I need to do some shopping for the food we are supplying for some friends tonight. I always prefer to shop when it is quieter so I suggest we set off early to avoid the crowds. My general rule is to leave the house at 10am at the latest built up from experience, but it being New Year’s Eve, I suggest we aim for 8am aware that we probably won’t make it out the door at that time but we should be by 8.30am.

My daughter has a parcel to pick up too, but since we are heading in that direction, we can fit that in hopefully before the queue gets too long. My son needs new boxers (which for some reason keeps getting translated into boxes in my head) so he wants to come as well. The night before we are all set (food list generated) and I go off and spent time with my friends gaming online into the early hours.

I set my alarm for 7.40am but my wife’s is for 7.30am so she is up before me which makes my alarm redundant because I will wake up with her. After my wife is up and gone, I lie there a while (it seems like a long while) when my alarm calls me back to reality; I turn it off. Five minutes later, I finally lever myself out of bed and get dressed (do I put on anything special for Hogmanay? I wonder and decide not to). I am all set to go just before eight but my wife isn’t and there is not sign of my son. Do I go and wake my son up? He is not an early morning kinda guy so perhaps he has decided not to come shopping anyway. I dither. My wife eventually appears and sorts out the final things like a coat and shoes. I ask her if she has the card and ID for the parcel. We set off.

The parcel pickup was straightforward (no queue) as was the shopping (still no queue) and we even fit in a side trip to the recycling centre to get rid of the bust kettle. We get back home and my wife comments on some lights being left on. It was dark when we left and now it is light so in my head I dismiss the lights being an issue. At some point I ask my wife if she mentioned to our son when we were going shopping, and she said hadn’t. I hadn’t either and then it dawns on me that perhaps those lights being left on are signs that in fact my son did get up but only found the dog to greet him. Internally I berate myself for not saying anything to my son last night and not checking with my wife before we had left. I have let my son down, I got it wrong; plus I can’t even remember what he wanted from the shops.

Later my wife tells me she is going to take our son to the shops at 11.30am. I am glad she is doing it rather than me. I ask her what he wants, and she says “boxes”. At least I hear boxes and feel immediately better because the world doesn’t end if you need boxes but I am puzzled as to what he wants to use the boxes for so I ask my wife. She doesn’t reply, so I ask again. The confusion is over the word of course, I hear “boxes” whilst she says and hears “boxers”. Somehow I figure that out and remember when he replied to my questioning the day before; that’s a bit surreal.

There is a part of me that feels the need to apologise to my son, there is a black stain of something (mistake, blame, guilt, weakness?) in my mind that refuses to shift on its own. The stain is emotional based and doesn’t yield to logic, it can be forgotten, but it doesn’t hide in the dark for long lurking in the background waiting to remind me of my failure and undermine my confidence. Despite the issue being resolved by my wife, my stain still exists and it isn’t until I see my son later, that the stain can dissipate. I don’t need to apologise to him, or even to explain the issue, somehow seeing him and him acting normally towards me is enough to grant my self-forgiveness. I still don’t like the fact I messed up, but the stain is no longer lurking in my mind ready to pounce, now it has been resigned to long term memory where I can barely touch the associated emotion and where if I don’t access it, it will fade and die.

Interesting. It would seem that if I make a mistake with another person, then I proceed to believe that that person hates and rejects me even when I have no evidence that that is actually the case. When I look back on some “big mistakes” I have made, my reaction is strengthened because I do have some evidence that I am despised: a responding email that feels Iike I am being read the riot act, or the physical removal of a precious instrument I had messed up.

With my son my misdemeanour was in my mind, and logically I could work with counteracting the emotional anxiety; “big mistakes” have big sticks of evidence associated with them that I cannot counteract through logic and they can be emotionally crippling. The issue around the musical instruments is decades old now, and at the time, the other person involved wouldn’t talk to me about it. I cried many tears of despair and abandonment over that situation but though I wouldn’t bring up the subject easily, I do very occasionally meet and chat with the person involved; the wound is pretty much healed and faded now.

The email one is from last month and involves several parties I guess. The one I was trying to help has stayed overnight here, he doesn’t know about the email but I will try to tell him today. The stain associated with my mistake on this one faded a little bit when he arrived and I was able to talk to him about his general situation. He is surviving and it doesn’t look as though I have done any harm to him which is a relief. I will meet the sender of the email later this month. I have a need to be forgiven by him but I hope meeting him and re-establishing cordial relations will be enough to move on with.

After all, it isn’t the other parties involved that I need forgiveness from, not really, it’s myself that is the toughest cookie here. What I find interesting too, is that by recognising the issue and connecting with the people involved, I find a kind of peace (cue values).

I am also pondering what happens when the other person doesn’t accept the re-establishing of an entente cordial. I think for me, it is enough that I have tried. It isn’t as ideal of course, the stain stays around longer but the process of cleaning it up can begin once I have made an effort or so it seems.