Making Mistakes And Paying It Forward

Photo by Polina Zimmerman from Pexels

My brother sent me a silly meme the other day. It was a satellite image of the giant container ship that was stuck in the Suez Canal. The caption read, “At least your biggest mistake can’t be seen from space.” Haha, yeah, I’ve never done anything that bad. 

Poor bastards!

Oh, I’ve screwed up plenty of times, and occasionally those mistakes have landed me in the hospital. One time, I got a stern talking to by a cop. Though, upon reflection, I think he was more bemused than anything else. We’ve all been young and dumb. It was silly, but no lives or property were jeopardized.

Through no fault of my own, I’ve never done anything too catastrophic. At least, I’ve never jeopardized the global economy. Yet? I feel like I should knock on wood, throw salt over my shoulder, and spin in circles while spitting. Not that I’m superstitious, but it doesn’t hurt to cover your bases. You know, just in case those things really do help, and my limited imagination is stopping me from seeing the truth, light, or what-have-yous.

I think, for the most part, my mistakes have only caused self-inflicted injuries. The cost of my lapses in judgement has had, mercifully, a limited impact on others. I’ve never been a trending topic. There are no Key Hole satellite images. Sure, I’ve had an employer chew me out, but it wasn’t witnessed by millions of people on the evening news.

Is that a humblebrag, or do I hashtag it: Blessed.

Can you imagine how the captain of that ship must feel? Oh, and the person in charge of navigation. I’ve had bad days at the office, especially when I worked in customer service but, I didn’t cause billions of dollars in lost revenue. There weren’t thousands of people forced to wait for me to clean up the mess. Most of all, and this cannot be overstated, my mistakes have never been visible from space.

My oopsies didn’t trend worldwide for six days. There weren’t experts and armchair yahoo’s debating my incompetence. But there’s a captain and navigator out there that can’t say the same. Everyone has had an opinion, including me— mostly, I just giggled at the unfortunate dick doodle— and there’s been plenty of blame, plus shame, to go around.

Of course, there has! We’re bored in the house. We’re in the house bored. Hell, I got a damn Tiktok thingy because there are too many hours in the day, and I can only sleep so much. Then, like a gift from an alien civilization, the monotony was temporarily shattered. 

Someone made a big mistake, and it was captured on a camera in space. Space! Et voila, we have a soapbox revival. It’s been a rough year for all of us. There’s so much going on, and it’s hard to keep up. But let me draw your attention to a forgotten casualty of this pandemic. 

No one’s talking about the collapse of the soapbox industry. Once a thriving marketplace for self-righteous moralizing. Now, they are left grasping for any scraps of sanctimonious sophistry they can get. Oh, the tragedy and the nauseating amount of sarcasm.

Sorry, I’ll tone it down a bit.

Naturally, everyone jumped on this one mistake! Do you remember how mental everyone got when they thought Justin Bieber was eating a burrito wrong? Go on, say something negative about Kpop, I dare you. Actually, that would be inadvisable. They’re an army, so no, it’s not worth the risk. Besides, I really like how Kpop fans handle trolls and bigots online. It’s pure poetry, and you make me smile.

Well played Kpop fans. Well played.

If a burrito can set off the priggish banter? Oh, yeah, blocking off a major trade route for six days will get the fingers flapping and the tongues wagging. One mistake, and the world stops spinning and stares. Some judge while others giggle at juvenile imagery. To each their own?

Can you imagine how gutted they must’ve felt when they realized the ship was stuck? I would panic and repeatedly mutter shit, damn it, oh crap until my throat became raw. After that, the only thought going through my head would be: I’m totally getting fired.

If getting stuck wasn’t bad enough? There was a hefty dash of salt in that gaping wound. Their worst mistake was broadcast around the globe. Everyone felt the need to say, “You fucked up, you know that, right?” 

Like they didn’t figure that out on their own. The ship can be seen from space, and the boss yelled at them on tv. The honking from the traffic jam must’ve been grating. I don’t know if ships honk, but if rush hour is any indication? Yikes!

Oh, and yeah, the whole space thing.

I’ve never made a mistake so horrible that it can be seen thousands of miles above the earth. That’s not to say it’s impossible. I’m sure it’s very possible, which is why I don’t leave my home very often. That, and a global pandemic, but for argument’s sake, let’s just say that it’s in the planet’s best interest.

I’m exceptionally accident-prone, and I don’t have the best luck. When I was a kid, I almost broke my ankle riding my bike. Yes, it’s an age-appropriate injury. Except, I didn’t take a nasty spill. Somehow, and no one can figure out how I did it, I got my foot stuck between the peddle and the bike’s frame. It was wedged in there good! It took four adults and a couple of power tools to free my foot.

That was followed by a hurried drive to the emergency room, hours of waiting, and a couple of x-rays. It was a nasty sprain, and I wasn’t allowed to ride my bike for a good long while. You know, to give my ankle a chance to heal. It wasn’t because my parents didn’t trust me anymore. Nope, that was not the reason at all.

If I can’t ride a bike without falling prey to the perils of lady luck? I can’t be trusted with something far more reckless. Like, I don’t know, leaving my home or behaving like a functioning adult? Yes, imagine the calamities I could cause if I went out. I shiver at the thought.

Nearly fracturing my ankle riding my bike and that run-in with law enforcement were silly mistakes. I’d even call them teaching moments, because I learned valuable lessons. For example, it’s not okay to get out of the car and run around it. Even if the light has turned red and it’s two AM. It doesn’t matter that there are no other cars on the road. Stay inside your vehicle, buckle up, and follow all the rules of the road.

Or, make sure that the only other car on the road isn’t a marked police vehicle, you dumb ass. You’re smarter than I was so, don’t do what we did. It was silly.

I’ve screwed up so often, I genuinely wonder if I’m single handily turning it into an art form. It’s that or it’s genetic. It skipped five generations, and then I came along. Lucky me! Or, it’s just an inherently human trait? Nah, that couldn’t be it.

There are so many examples of how badly I’ve screwed up, but I can’t think of any right now. Well, other than the two I’ve already shared. Can you just take my word for it? I’m accident prone and predisposed to mistakes. My body is often in gear before my mind has a chance to fully process the situation.

I can’t tell you how often I find myself asking: what the hell are you doing? As I’m doing something, as the words are coming out of my mouth, I’m questioning my sanity. This is a stupid idea. Stop! Why are you doing this? No, just no! By then, momentum has taken over, and I can’t fight gravity. Down I go, ass over nose, and then I have to explain to a professional what I was thinking.

Clearly, I wasn’t thinking, and that’s why I’m here getting x-rays. I thought that would be obvious. Didn’t they teach deductive reasoning at your school?

I’m such an odd mix of hyper-rational and balls-to-the-wall clumsy. Do you know what you get when you give an overthinker ADHD? You get someone like me. I make the strangest mistakes, and I get myself into the weirdest predicaments. 

But at least none of my mistakes can be seen from space! I’ve got that going for me. At least, for the moment. Give it time. I’m getting vaccinated on Monday so, I might be allowed out of my home more often. Only time will tell if that will affect the course of humanity or lead to global destruction.

Fingers crossed.

When I read the ten-volume catalogue of my mistakes, two things stick out. One, I learned a lot from every single lapse in judgement. Two, and this is important, the people around me showed me grace, compassion, and forgiveness.

It should go without saying, but everyone makes mistakes. No one is perfect. We all know this, right? But how easy is it to forgive those mistakes? Whether we’re forgiving ourselves or others, it seems like we’re losing the ability to show understanding or compassion. We’re quick to point out how someone has fucked up, but slow to help them out.

That said, I’m not sure if everyone deserves forgiveness. And I’m not talking about accountability or justice. That’s a different animal and a very weighted subject. 

I’m talking about the emotional response to something horrible. I can think of a few things that challenge my ability to show leniency. I’ve had things done to me that I struggle to forgive. Things that bring up a lot of conflicting emotions. Then I hear these words: Forgiveness, compassion, grace. Well, damn, I don’t know.

I guess the question is: Does it mean they don’t deserve it? Or, do I need to work on showing others the same grace and compassion I was shown? 

I firmly believe in the power of paying it forward, and it’s an idea that I strive to fully embrace. I’ve made horrible mistakes that have hurt the people I love. I would’ve understood if they chose to walk away. If they didn’t want to talk to me again? Yeah, that would’ve been fair, but they didn’t. 

Instead, they showed me grace, compassion, and forgiveness when they had every right to deny me that gift. And it is a gift! It’s so easy to walk away. It’s even easier to criticize and gleefully cancel someone’s entire existence. Offering them understanding? Giving them a chance to grow, learn, change? 

Nah, it’s easier to believe the worst.

But, and this is just me, I have been shown mercy so, I feel like I owe you the same kindness. Someone forgave me, and it changed my life. It might’ve even saved it because some mistakes take a massive toll on our mental health. Those words, I forgive you, can pull someone back off the ledge, and save them from a long drop. 

The ground was shaky, and now it feels like I have something to stand on. When you showed my grace, compassion, and understanding? You allowed me to become more than a mistake or this incredibly flawed human being. You gave me the chance to grow beyond what I believed I could become. 

Now, I am a better person because you showed me immense kindness.

It doesn’t matter if the mistake can be seen from space. Or if it was handled by a bemused cop. I know how life-changing forgiveness can be and how healing compassion is. For me, paying that forward feels like the least I can do, but it’s also so hard.


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