On Guilt

By Jennifer Wortman

September 26, 2016

On Guilt

When I was a baby and woke up at night, my mother held me, her arms a boat on a gentle sea. Oh, the helpless power of the small, to be thus cupped in the world’s warm hand. But no warm hand for all: babies left in dumpsters, bombed dead on white beaches. As for boats, I might think “mother,” but you might think “exile.” At the park, I spied a fallen hatchling in the grass. When I returned with my husband for help, it was a crushed rainbow mess. Why hadn’t I lifted it? My therapist thinks guilt is a bad motivator, as does my dad, whose philosophy of Judaism is two statements combined: “Be a good person” and “If you want to eat pork, eat pork.” I don’t want to eat pork. I want to be a good person, but I don’t know how. You may say that’s a cop out, and I’ll agree. I’m not so concerned with guilt as with its opposite, but what’s that? Pride? Self-congratulation? Rationalization? When I don’t answer my mother’s calls, I have my reasons, usually involving lack of time. Speaking of time, how much left until she dies? Tonight, guilt rocks me awake. Moonlight knifes the darkness into countless shades. Somewhere in that darkness is a voice that says, “Do better.” Somewhere in that voice: my mother’s arms, that gentle sea.

Photo "Holding Hands With a Newborn Baby" provided by Bridget Colla via Flickr's Creative Commons licence.

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