I discovered the above poem at the tender age of seven, when I decided to plagiarize it and claim it for my own in a second-grade writing assignment. The teacher did not recognize the poem and gave me a “very creative” stamp on the paper. And guess what? I’ve felt guilty about it all these years. So here’s your shout-out, Monica Shannon. I’m sorry I stole your poem in second grade. I still think of it whenever I see a caterpillar. And, sorry, second grade teacher (I think her name was Mrs. Ryan), for passing off this work as my own. Also, I probably shouldn’t have waited 40 years to make amends. Sorry. Sorry!
Speaking of guilt, I have a number of friends who are into raising monarch butterflies. They are considered endangered, you know. My friends wouldn’t have left this fellow on the milkweed to be eaten by a hungry bird. Oh no, they would have taken him inside to nurture him safely to butterfly adulthood. But I didn’t do that. I don’t really know the fate of this fat friend. I do know that he enjoyed his meal of milkweed leaves. He mowed them down with gusto, just like anyone who has read The Very Hungry Caterpillar would expect. I hope he moved on to a safe branch somewhere to begin his transformation into a stately monarch. But I feel guilty for not knowing.
I feel guilty for a lot of things. I feel guilty for not writing. I feel guilty for not cleaning my house. I feel guilty for not pulling weeds. I feel guilty that my office looks like it belongs on an episode of Hoarders. I feel guilty for not hugging my children enough. Or am I hugging them too much? I feel guilty that they spend too much time staring at a screen. I feel guilty for nagging them about their screen time. Most of the time I’m not even sure what I’m doing right or wrong, but guilt is a constant. And let’s not even get started on world hunger, social justice and the environment. If it has a hashtag, I probably feel guilty about it.
A very good friend once told me: “Guilt is a useless emotion.” She was mostly right, and I admired her ability to give guilt the cold shoulder. Guilt is paralyzing, stultifying, crazymaking. It tells you bad things about yourself. It’s a sign of thinking too much. Perhaps it’s also a catalyst for action, though. Doesn’t it spur us to do better? Or keep us from doing wrong in the first place? I have a sense that the antidote to guilt is action, and the cure is grace, but still I get mired in the guilt-mud on a regular basis.
Are you living a guilt-free life? What do you do about mommy guilt? Daddy guilt? Eco guilt? Other kinds of guilt? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
And by the way, I feel guilty for all the guilt I’ve laid on my kids over the years. But at least I feel better about the caterpillar poem now. That’s a start.