Did you used to get your cheeks pinched?
When I was a kid Poona Auntie pinched my cheeks at family gatherings on the reg. And, as if the death grip on my ruby-reds wasn’t enough, she always accompanied it with some classic Indian head wobbles and lines like “Why don’t you ever visit me, beta gee? Why has it been so long? Why don’t you ever phone your Poona Auntie?”
Guilt, pain, shame, and a quick feeling of being a bad nephew.
I guess it never struck me to take a break from fighting hammer brothers in my basement to phone up a distant aunt and start gabbing like we were sitting under permers at the beauty salon.
And what would have happened if I really did call up the aunt whose only conversation topic was how I didn’t call her? Would we have suddenly started swapping vindaloo recipes or debated the latest Bollywood star turn? Or would we have simply inched along a step to discussing how I never came to visit?
Much later on in life I owned a sandwich shop and sometimes had a customer walk in the door who I hadn’t seen in a little while.
What did I say to them? “Hey, where have you been? Why don’t you ever visit your favorite sandwich shop anymore?”
I started noticing when I did that they’d quickly flash an apologetic smile, make a quick Mesquite Chicken order, and then disappear forever.
I’d hear the door ding and could almost see the swirling black cloud of shame hovering over them as they stepped inside their dented Honda Civic and drove straight out of my life.
It took a long time to realize the shame was because of me.
And that it was undeserved.
I had somehow grown into the Poona Auntie of Sandwiches.
Over time, I started to understand why they never came back. It was the same reason I never called my aunt.
Who can handle that kind of guilt?
Much easier to disappear completely.
Shame clouds came in those days because I wasn’t confident.
“I’m a non-caller, I’m a bad nephew, I’m not holding up my end of the relationship.”
Or maybe the snow globe lives we live in just had a shake and I didn’t realize that was okay, that was normal, that neither person was to blame.
Because guilt tripping is a form of emotional lashing out.
Research from the University of Auckland and the University of New Hampshire found that people who felt more hurt when receiving criticism from partners were more likely to respond dramatically in order to make their partner feel guilty. The more their feelings were hurt, the more guilt their partners experienced.
When you say, “I know we haven’t seen each other in a while,” you’re essentially saying, “and it’s all your fault.”
But we’re forgetting we all live in a snow globe.
We shake up, we shake down, we fly sideways, we get around. Sometimes the shakes send us flying. And that doesn’t mean we did anything wrong. We have to grow to appreciate what we had and what we have. We have to learn to let go a little more of what could or should be.
Moments, days, this year, right here.
Tomorrows are never guaranteed so no need to spray them with Poona Auntie sayings or shake shame clouds over people when all you really mean to say is:
“I’m so glad to see you.”
“I feel lucky we got this.”
“Thanks for being in my life.”
“And thank you for being
I wrote 1000 Awesome Things from 2008 – 2012 which turned into four books. This is my first new one online since then.