Sometimes We're Absolutely Wrong

There are very few absolutes in life. Almost no one is all good or all bad. There’s right and wrong, but even those are questionable. Shouldn’t there be some word in between those two words?

(I guess there is Wright, which combines the two words, but that’s the name of the dudes who invented the airplane and a very funny comedian, neither of which encompasses my thinking here.)

It’s this gray area where we live most of our lives and where most of the world exists. Sometimes you can almost guarantee that you’ll often have your certainty blown up while you watch.

(Side note: This was the problem with the last president’s declaration that countries are either with us or against. Hold your horses, buddy. Black and white thinking can be dangerous.)

The challenge given to ChicagoNow bloggers for this month’s Blogapalooz-hour, during which we have one hour to produce a post, is: "Write about a time you made a mistake or were wrong about something.”

Again like the last president, I had a hard time thinking of a mistake I’ve made. Turns out I’m not perfect though, and after thinking for a few minutes, I came up with plenty of examples. However, we can’t just write about something. We have to write about something interesting, right?

Let’s see if I’ve done that.

My wife’s grandmother died in 2006. My daughter had a special bond with her. At the time she was the only great grandchild, and my wife’s grandma showered her with the exorbitant amount of affection common with good grandmas.

She’d always give my daughter little gifts. Some were rather trivial, some were more meaningful. They all made my daughter happy. One of the things she gave her was a box of coins. I don’t remember specific details of the coins, but I think some were rare U.S. coins, some were foreign coins, and some were just plain old quarters, dimes, and so on.

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My daughter loved this box of coins. I vividly remember her sitting on her bedroom floor and looking at the coins one day with the mid-morning sun shining through the blinds. She was eight or nine years old, and she picked each one up, studied it, and then moved on to the next one.

I have no doubt that she was most interested in them because her great grandma gave them to her.

Much later, after her great grandma died, my daughter wanted to bring the coins to school. A social studies project or something. She searched her room, but couldn’t find them. I helped her look for them. No luck. My wife helped her look. The coins were nowhere.

Like many girls her age, my daughter struggled to keep her room clean. Piles of clothes here. Piles of toys there. Islands of organization mixed in. We always battled with her about it, but usually to no avail.

Because I knew the sentimental value of these coins I came down particularly hard on her. I remember yelling at her, telling her that he was irresponsible and that she had to keep track of important things. Her great grandma loved her and wanted her to have those coins and she lost them. Doesn’t she care about anything? My wife agreed and said a few cross words as well, but I know that I did most of the berating.

The day she needed them came and went. We searched the house to no avail. I yelled again, and we all accepted that she’d lost the coins.

Fast forward some months. Four, five, six months. A long time. I’m kneeling on the kitchen counter, clearing junk out of one of the cabinets after some loose papers fell on my head one too many times. All at once, in a flood of realization, my mind reflected back nine or ten months, to the last time I cleaned this cabinet. The coins!

I reached up, pulled down a box, and inside the box was the little box in which my daughter kept her coins. I instantly remembered the last time I organized that cabinet. The coins had been on the counter for days. I was tired of seeing them there and threw them in the cabinet just to get them out of the way.

I felt at once incredibly relieved and incredibly guilty. I took the coins, showed my wife, and went upstairs into my daughter’s room. I showed her the coins and she yelped in excitement.

Then I apologized. I’d hidden the coins. I forgot. She hadn’t been careless. It was my fault. I shouldn’t have been so tough on her. I felt so guilty, the harshness of my rebuke felt so fresh, that I got choked up. I’d been so certain that the coins were gone because of her carelessness, yet I was to blame.

Since then we’ve had more kids. I’ve got four of them now, and I think I’ve made a similar mistake with all four. I’ve looked at a situation, thought I knew what happened—knew I knew what happened—only to find out that I was wrong, usually after already yelling at them.

Not my finest moments.

A good reminder though. Be careful of certainty. This world isn’t kind to certainty or absolutes.

We forget that at our own risk.

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