5 am. Another sleepless night in Silkeborg. Too many thoughts crowding in on my sleep, disturbing my dreams. Images of my daughters laughing, talking, dancing fill my head. The grief of being without them now is at times nearly more than I can bear. It is a razor sharp line between grief, shame, and dignity. I am finding it difficult to maintain the line without falling on the razor. When I fall, the cuts bleed freely. Gorgeous, scarlet blood, flowing outward from my scarred heart.
What is the line between shame and dignity? Between freedom to choose and responsibility for action? Between love of other and love of self? When I make a decision which affects those closest to me adversely, the result is loss of my own sense of worth and dignity, causing shame. I am not an island, but rather a tree in the forest, perhaps a tall silver beech like the ones which grow in this part of Denmark. Those trees grow together in families, often close together in clusters, twining round each other in loving embrace. If one suddenly decides it no longer wants to live right there among the others in its own family (perhaps someone has come along to disturb its peace and offer it a different view in another forest, for example), then its uprooting and absence will alter the other trees profoundly; their growth patterns, their ability to support one another, their underground roots will all be changed. The health and stability of that part of the forest will be compromised. There will be grieving for the absent tree. We are human beings, and so it is easier in some ways for us to pick ourselves up and move away from our families and friends than for the trees to be transplanted. We come here with the ability to choose what we will do with our lives, with whom we will live, whom we will love. We spend our lives making decisions, both small and large. Some of what we choose, although we cannot know it at the time, will have far-reaching consequences which will transform us and the ones closest to us, in ways we cannot imagine. It is impossible to know the script of one’s life before it is written. I believe it is impossible to always make the right choice. Life is about failure as well as success, and wrong or unhealthy choices are sometimes inevitable.
That’s where shame and dignity come in. In the drama of a person’s life, there are plenty of opportunities for both of these emotional forces to take center stage. A situation occurs: how do I react? Do I become full of shame and regret, experiencing self-loathing, unable to find any relief or to forgive myself? Or do I gather my dignity, the noble part of my soul which is able to stand tall, breathe deep and accept life’s circumstances and the responsibility for my part in it? Shakespeare reminds us that we are all players in Life’s unfolding drama. As anyone who has ever been in a play knows, sometimes we receive roles we would rather not play, but it is our job to play it to the fullest, to really become that character, to embody that role. Life is not unsimilar to this, we are given a role and the expectation is to play it to the hilt, with as much enthusiasm and dramatic flair as we can muster. And authenticity! One has to believe in their role, to become that character, or else no one will believe them. Can we play our given roles in Life with true authenticity, courage and dignity?
I love this word, dignity. To me it speaks of all which a human being should aspire to, all which we have the potential to be. I have known a few truly dignified human beings in my life, and they have all made a profound impression on me. To carry oneself through life in a dignified manner is to embrace one’s noble birth, recognize one’s inherent worth and divinity. We are humans, being. Yet, some of us aspire to become more. Once, in a metaphysical class I was taking, I asked my wise and very dignified teacher if it was possible for a human to eventually evolve enough to become an angel. His answer was succinct. He took a breath, and said, ‘Yes, it is possible, but it takes much hard and tedious work!’ Part of that tedious work is to let go of shame and guilt over our humanness, and to embrace our dignity. Stand up straight, and remember to breathe.