Pedro Netto,

No shame in the mess of surviving

  • May 18, 2023

It was quiet Saturday morning at home after several full weekends in a row. I had hoped to sleep in but the youngest was up early counting down the minutes until I got out of bed. The sun was shining in spite of a forecast for rain, and my head was an inexplicable cloud of shame. I have been practising living with joy, and so I committed to look patiently at the cloud with love.

It was really uncomfortable. Interrupting my usual habits automatically triggers discomfort. 

But I wasn’t consciously aware of my usual pattern until I made the decision to look with love. I made tea and put on laundry, played with the kids and fought the urge to give myself a nasty lecture about all the things I am failing at. I resisted making a mental list of everything that is wrong with me and my life and mapping out a new whole life plan to strictly enforce. I refused to schedule a time to share my thoughts with my family.

As I resisted all this action, I became aware that critical self-talk and intense problem-solving and planning is my unconscious response to feeling shame. For a few minutes, I wished I hadn’t interrupted the pattern and could have kept the comfort of not knowing. By some miracle, I had committed to looking with love.

For too much of my life, I looked on my younger self with embarrassment. I expected myself to know what I hadn’t yet learned. I heaped the weight of expectation backward, which only added pressure in the present as I anticipated the disappointment of my future self to now. 

Instead of the usual, I sat with curiosity looking at the routines that emerged during grief and pandemic isolation. I felt compassion for my past self walking through incredible pain and healing and disappointment and uncertainty. I sent love to the me that seeks comfort and safety in trying to control things with plans and performance.

These last few days, the weather has shifted from very warm days to cool and cloudy. The leaves are finally breaking out on the trees, bringing out the leaves, little by little, hour by hour.  Every time I stand at the kitchen sink, I look with love on their growth. Most of these views are not worthy of a share on social media. The lighting wouldn’t make for a great photo. The moments in themselves are not remarkable; they do not need to be. But the moments remind me that trees, like people, grow in their own time.

Now is the time for this step in my learning about shame. 

Last weekend, I got to sing the same Psalm 16 at Mass that I sang at my sister’s funeral, six years ago, almost to the day: “You will show me the path of life, and guide me to joy forever.” It felt so good to sing the words and notes with tears of joy instead of pain pressing at my eyes. It was true then, it is true now. 

My shame shouts that I was supposed to know what life was about and never get it wrong if I am ever to feel any (elusive and likely disappointing) joy. I can see the lie now, so I can let go of my defenses.

I found myself on the couch of a friend and shared a bit of the cloud with her. I cuddled a baby and carried a craft home carefully avoiding the rain. After I washed the dishes, I tucked my littles into bed. I let the cloud linger until it dripped itself into oblivion.

There is no shame in surviving. In doing the next right thing followed by the next. In letting the non-essential go. The antidote to shame is wonder at the growth right here in what is. And turning my eyes to look with love on myself and my life.

Spring is arriving after a six year winter season of my life. There are new buds emerging on branches that I might have hastily pruned away to avoid the discomfort. Old leaves and blown in garbage lay in the bottoms of the hedges. Old dead branches are surrounded by young new shoots. Several years of surviving left some mess. So what? There is lifetime laid out before me to walk the next steps on the path of life with gentleness and joy.

(Perrault works in Catholic health care in Saskatoon and writes and speaks about faith. Her website is

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