We all have moments in our lives that pink us up with embarrassment.
Who has not waved back at someone they believed was waving at them, only to realize the greeting was meant for someone else? That sort is easily put in the rear-view mirror, and we can even laugh about it. The humdingers we keep to ourselves.
When we’re kids, without the filters we pick up later, we can mortify our elders with what comes out of our mouths.
My grandmother liked to tell the story of the afternoon she took my mother, then a little girl, to pay a social call on a neighbor in the Eastern Washington city of Oroville.
“Ooh, look at the big man with the teeny little head,” my mother said right in front of the man, embarrassing her mother so badly that she recalled it for us 60 years later.
My mother was unrepentant at the retelling. Her defense at hearing her offense all those years later: “Well, he did have a teeny little head!”
I have a few choice tales of my own.
Years ago when I lived in Sequim, a friend and her beau, Cathy and George, tried to teach me to dance and ultimately coax me out onto a dance floor. I fretted that someone would detect how bad I was and call me out.
Confession: I am a klutz.
“We’ve been dancing for decades and have never seen it happen to anybody,” my friends assured.
With that assurance to buck me up, I made my terpsichorean debut one fall night in 1995 at the Elks Club in Port Angeles. And when I sat down, pleased as punch that I’d faced my fears, a stranger at a nearby table drew loud attention to my performance: “Man, you stink! You are really, really bad! You are awful!”
I remember the distinct sound of my friends’ jaws hitting the floor.
In addition to dance floors, hospitals are natural places for stripping away one’s dignity and fertile ground for scarlet moments.
I had many such moments when I was in a hospital on two occasions in 2021 for a total of about a month and three weeks, recovering from cancer surgery and then from a mishap with chemotherapy.
One afternoon, staff came in to my room to change the linens on my bed, and so there I was standing, naked, with my back to the door I had not known was wide open when I heard a rustling behind me.
“Hi,” said a chirpy chorus of 10 young, hand-waving student nurses. I could do nothing but stand there, palm my head, and, so to speak, grin and bare it.
Right at the top of the list, however, was the infamous evening at the University of Washington when I summoned the courage to ask this pretty young woman out for a date. She lived on the eighth floor in Terry Hall, the women’s floor, and I lived on the ninth.
Her reaction to my question? A welcome yes? A polite no?
Neither. Didn’t say a word. Didn’t have to. She laughed in my face and kept on laughing as I tried to slink away with my last shred of dignity intact, up the stairs to my floor. When I reached my room at the far end of the corridor, I could still hear her.
I have that laugh in my head to this day, and I still can’t find anything funny about it.
In the final look back at these moments of mortification, I’m not sure if given the opportunity I would change what happened. Except of course for that date refusal. They are part of the tapestry of life. Which is great. Except that sometimes, it hurts.
Robert Whale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.