Lessons repeat themselves. They come around in differing forms and nip at the heels, tug at the heart, manipulate mannequin-like, or simply trip one up. And we respond, or react, and even try to avoid them, consciously or not. So it is we break with our integrity, learn to lie, to cheat and steal, or worse, fool even ourselves into being so very much less than we can, ought, or might be. Christmas, especially, puts me most in the path of such lessons. Temptations abound!
Eggnog is meant to last at least a week. Chocolates in open dishes are meant for occasional guests. Cookies are meant as tea-time treats, with only one, or perhaps two, per occasion. And presents, the most tempting of all, are meant to be hidden, or wrapped and waiting under the tree, with not so much as a hint or a peek at what any one of them might be. But at seven years old, I was yet to begin learning the lesson that seems only now, in my seventh decade, to have come full circle sufficient for me to articulate the lesson itself. Perhaps had I not oft been beaten, scorned, shamed, and deprived I might more easily have learned the lesson. Integrity for the self might've become an internalized thing had someone articulated it clearly for me, but I was not insightful enough to realize that THAT was the lesson, not just a concept, integrity. Instead I feared honesty, feared admitting errors, and learned to keep to myself my thinking, my feelings, and my actions least the consequences, especially as delivered by others, would tear into me.
"Don't lie to me. You looked at your present after I told you not to, didn't you?"
To me she looked like an old woman; I was seven. "I didn't, Aunty," I remonstrated. "I was just moving some parcels while I was cleaning up the lounge," I offered, making sweeping motions.
"I saw the rip in the corner of your present, liar! You did take a peek, didn't you?"
"I'm sorry, Aunty. I was just so excited to see if it was what I hoped for! And it is! So thank..."
"Go get a belt, bend over the bathroom tub, pants down, hands in the tub, and wait for me! But first, I'm going to take your present now and give it to someone else!"
Yes, I recall exactly what it was I did not then get. But more significantly, the lesson I was then learning was not to own up, not to be honest, and worse, more carefully to conceal from others what I knew might get me into trouble. Boarding school and the army had exacted the same.
Which brings me to today.
"Please don't peek in my bathtub," my wife asked me, about a week or so ago. "I haven't yet wrapped your presents."
I did not, and never thought to. But today I was in there and noticed a black shopping bag on its side next to the small mound under the towel my wife had spread over whatever she's been collecting for me. And for a moment I was in the act of reaching out to just pluck at that new temptation that I might see 'more better' when... I knew instinctively that my integrity was about to be compromised. My wife would not know; but I would. And with that knowledge I'd not gain personal power, but lose it. A lifetime of deceptions and betrayals, small and large, came down to the apparently innocent act of sneaking a peek. Indeed, the lessons circle back and repeat; we are persons of integrity for ourselves, bit by bit, or not. How very much, as a child, I would have liked the lesson given voice to my cognizance; given precise articulation to my potential. But then again, integrity comes circling around and around in very many enticing guises, doesn't it?