The kid that shame forgot

“Is Katherine playing?”

At weekends and during school holidays our back garden was often riotous with kids from the other houses in the street. I was happy enough to put my book down a while and play skipping games, elastics, or “knives, forks, spoons” (a kind of competitive gymnastics game: I still do a mean cartwheel!)… until the summer I saw The Land That Time Forgot. How could I focus on handstands when I desperately needed to think about dinosaurs? I made a makeshift (i.e. probably dangerous) swing in the lilac tree and spent hours going back and forth, planning my great dinosaur adventure.

In the film, the lost land was discovered by a submarine with a German crew. I figured there would be submarines in the naval base at Portland Harbour, half an hour away, so needn’t worry about that for the time being. The little school library had a series of books about various countries: I soon memorised the page of rudimentary vocab. in the back of the one about Germany.

In short, with only a dodgy action movie as my template, I put two and two together and came up with a number outside the decimal system altogether.

Yesterday morning, I listened to a new meditation on Spotify. I don’t think it matched its description, but it did bring something interesting to light. Two related things, actually; two instances where I was punished, by a teacher and by a stranger (including, both times, angry shouting and name-calling), when I didn’t understand what I had done wrong, or even that I had done something wrong. And, in the absence of understanding, I interpreted this as further evidence that I was (in all things) wrong. This resulted in an intense feeling of shame so I could never tell anyone else what had happened. I hid it, and alongside it I hid what I could of myself, so it wouldn’t happen again. (Of course, the pattern went on helplessly repeating…)

Sitting quietly after my meditation, I heard myself say, “there is nothing for you to be ashamed of there.” This marks a significant breakthrough.

More than forty years on, I still have a fondness for dinosaurs (I know, I know!); my German could probably, given sufficient effort, be polished back into something serviceable. I realise I am the last person who should ever go on a submarine (all the weird noises; too many people far too close together; the lack of natural light and air; the problematic food…). I still find a lot of human behaviour largely incomprehensible. I gather and compare the evidence before me. I look for the patterns that allow me to navigate these foreign waters. I get by, more or less. But a flash of the old shame rises through me, as I wonder just how often I misinterpret what I’m seeing and get it wrong, wrong, cluelessly wrong.