I let you down

Tuesday October 20, 2020

On the wall in the spare bedroom are some artefacts which I brought back from my solo travels decades ago.

I spent 6 weeks in Sumatra, during which I undertook a 24 hour local bus journey down the length of the country. (Among my most vivid memories is the communal (very) women’s toilet, with central water tank and sloping floor, at a ‘comfort’ break.) Two of my artefacts are little bone and wood calendars from the Minangkabau people in the Lake Prapat area. They have twelve small sticks (like old fashioned ice lolly sticks) marked with the days, suspended from a piece of crudely carved bone.

That set me thinking about things brought back from holidays. On another occasion, I was in a small town where a boy befriended me. This was not unusual and, in my experience, came about through curiosity and friendliness with no ulterior motive. It might be different these days. He took me to meet his family at their home, which was very humble. There was a mother and maybe 8 small children. I remember taking a photo (old style) of them all in a row in front of it. I remember thinking how thrilled they would be to receive that photo.

But they never did. All my slides and undeveloped films fell out of my rucksack in transit back to the UK. Quite unintentionally, I let them down.

Of course, there were various alternative explanations (that is, other people’s faults) for them not getting it. The Sumatran postal service probably wasn’t great, or the film didn’t develop properly. My rucksack might have been violently tossed around by baggage handlers – but the fact remains that I hadn’t packed it properly and it haunts me to this day.

But why should it ‘haunt’ me? After all, to err is human; it was an innocent, if careless, mistake and a small one. On reflection, I think the person I most let down was me. I didn’t keep my word and bring joy to that benighted family (who probably never missed what they never had). And I have always found it hard to fail. I didn’t feel like a good enough person.

So what to make of this? It’s necessary to accept your shortcomings and forgive yourself: an opportunity for personal growth. And that means look, learn and do it better next time.

A Moodscope member.

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