I lived in Zurich at the time. Daddy was visiting for the week. That field trip to Milan…we would have breakfast in the dining car in the Alps, go see da Vinci’s The Last Supper, and have the fun of experiencing a new city together…was the pivot point of his whole visit. This was a big treat for both of us, and especially for my father who loves trains.
I’d organized dinner at home for my daughters and husband, and made sure the dogs were taken care of, all the myriad details that need doing when the mother is completely out of pocket.
We got up super early and I drove to our little local train station, where I purchased our train tickets to Milan. The ride would be over three hours and I had my reading material and papers to deal with. From the baby train station we rode to the Hauptbahnhof, the beautiful cavernous central train station you’ve seen in 57 movies. It even has that big schedule board where the letters and numbers clack endlessly to show the schedule.
Milan was Track 12.
And as we walked to the proper track, I dug in my bag for the tickets. Then I looked in my pocket. Again in the bag. Again pocket. Then the other pocket. Bag. Pockets. Bag. Pockets. There was nowhere else to look.
“I can’t find the tickets,” I said, panicking.
“Look again,” said Daddy, “you just had them.”
As I opened my bag, it hit me.
“I was going through my mail on the train ride here. When I put the extra papers in the recycling bin, the tickets were in with the stack with the recycling.”
“Well,” said Daddy, “I guess we’re not going to Milan.”
“Let me think a minute.” The train left in four minutes, so there wasn’t much time to think. Of course I was annoyed with myself for throwing 200 Swiss francs in the trash, but annoyance was the opposite of helpful. The question was: What to do now?? We had organized the whole week around today.
“Come on,” I said. “Let’s get on the train. I can re-buy the tickets on board.”
And I did.
It was an uncomfortable feeling, but it would’ve been more uncomfortable—more emotionally expensive—to forgo something we’d both looked forward to so much.
The Last Supper is a spectacular painting, smaller than I expected, and we couldn’t believe that that some monk had authorized cutting a door into the bottom of the fresco, removing Jesus’s feet and a big chunk of the table.
We went to the Leonardo da Vinci museum, a clothing outlet—Milan is center of the Italian fashion world—and wandered many streets trying to choose just the right spot for lunch. We take our food seriously, Daddy and I do. And all the while those lost tickets flitted in and out of my mind.
Not so much what I’d done, but rather how to present what I’d done. Because I was very clear about honesty in all matters. But neither did I feel like telling my husband that I simply threw $200 into the trash.
I wanted to be truthful, open, and yet not beat myself up—or open myself to that—over what was really a simple mistake. He could be harsh in criticism over errors, so my message needed to not overemphasize, but be timely—immediate—and convey what happened.
“Just so you know,” I told him late that evening, “today I made a 200 franc mistake.”
And that was the end of it.
I’ve thought about that particular moment lately as I’ve been re-reading The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown, which is about guilt and shame. She’s a great thinker and her TED talks on the subject are among the most popular. Her main theme as I see it is the difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is, I did something wrong. Shame is, I am a bad person.
My normal practice in an instance like the train tickets would have been to crucify myself about it. Wring hands. Nash teeth. Feel stupid. Dread being called stupid by my husband. He occasionally even used the term, “shit for brains.” (We aren’t married any longer…btw…) Because I’d think if I judged myself harshly, then what others would do to me couldn’t be so bad.
I didn’t like it of course. But I didn’t know any other way to be. But in this particular instance I managed to go another way. To not judge myself harshly, to not be judge, jury, and executioner all wrapped up in one.
And the result was way better.
This incident happened 18 years ago. And I’m trying to be compassionate with myself about taking so long to find my way back to doing it like this.