Not the only one

By: Susan Rushton
-A +A

I have felt on the verge of erroneousness all my life. I’m always convinced that any minute now I’m going to make a mistake — offend somebody, miss my deadline, make somebody mad on Facebook, gossip. Say something inadvertently insulting.

Geez. The list seems endless.

‘Course, I admit I’ve made many wonderful choices — married the right guy, stopped straightening my hair, majored in English, opened the door to the Auburn Journal. I’ve never shot anybody.
All smart decisions.

But I’ve always been convinced that any minute now, I will not be able to stop myself from saying or doing yet another stupid thing.

I remember one of my problems in elementary school: I was more literal than anyone else. Example: the first St. Patrick’s Day that I remember, I wore no outward green, because the label on my underwear was green. Good enough, right?

My mother pinched me that morning, and I expressed outrage. “You’re not wearing green,” she said. “Am so,” I said, and explained. “Sooz …” she said. “I’m wearing green, and nobody can say I’m not,” I said. I wouldn’t change.

You can imagine the day I had.

Next year I wore a green-checked dress. I didn’t get pinched once.

I guess this proves I’m capable of learning from my mistakes.

You recognize that I’ve slipped up worse than that. But I won’t share those times with you — the blunders that make it hard to go to sleep because they won’t stop tormenting me.

The worst part is that in general, it seems that nobody around me ever makes the quaking, earth-shattering gaffes I do.

In discussions of this topic recently, friends tell me that not only am I wrong, I’m over-the-top wrong.

But gee. They seem so easy with their mistakes — so easy with them that I never notice that they’ve committed mistakes. They’re so comfortable with themselves and others. And they say the right thing, carefully.

Yet they insist they make mistakes too.

Evidence that others blunder, I suppose, is readily available. Consider the ubiquity of white-out, erasers or the offer on answering machines to press the star key to change the message you just left.

And I do love the existence of the “recalculate” GPS button in the car. If I go where the system thinks I shouldn’t, it lets me know and gives me this opportunity to alter the route. I can correct my mistake.

If I were the only one to make mistakes, I wouldn’t keep finding these handy tools. They wouldn’t make them only for me, would they?

I can also reassure myself that erring is human by remembering a conversation I had with a boss when my mother was dying. He knew it and came over and expressed sympathy. Briefly … then he began a long description of how horrible it was when his mother was dying and how much pain she was in and how long she lingered and how confused she was and how hard it was for everyone. On and on, all about his terrible experience.

I was thrilled, for several reasons. One, he eased my sorrow because I was so amused at his inadequate way of sympathizing. Plus, he gave me a terrific lesson in inappropriate behavior — he made the conversation all about him. His incompetence made me feel better.

And when I talk to musicians, they insist that they always make mistakes. Mistakes come with the territory. But in the middle of a performance, they can’t focus on an error. After all, it’s over with. It’s seconds and more seconds ago, and they can’t dwell on it because they have to think about which note to play now, and the next one. Then the one after that.

And those listening can’t dwell on that mistake either, because more music is coming at them, and it keeps coming. And if you insist on focusing on that error so many seconds and moments ago, you miss all the good stuff coming at you.

Aha. I see a valuable lesson there. If I focus on the positive, the negative becomes smaller, less important and farther away.

Even so, I expect I’ll have to keep reminding myself that no, I’m not the only one who makes mistakes.

Susan Rushton’s opinion column appears regularly in the Auburn Journal. Her email is