The Smell Of Rotting Fish

When I was a kid my dad took me fishing on Primrose Lake, a private military lake that is used for target practice and inaccessible to the general public. My dad pulled a few strings and before I knew it we were fishing between bombardments. It was incredible. The fish practically jumped in the boat. It took twenty minutes for three of us to catch our limit of big, big fish. The cleaning took far longer than the catching.

We filled our freezer with fish that summer. Summer also brought holiday time and before long we were off to the family camping trip, thoughts of Primrose Lake far behind us. What we didn’t know was that, just before we left, someone had accidentally pulled the plug on our huge freezer.

Two weeks later.

We got home and the house reeked of bad fish. Why, we wondered, was that odor so pronounced? It didn’t take us long to find our way downstairs and finally open the now completely defrosted freezer… full to the brim with brine and water and dead smelly fish.

What to do?

It was tempting to just close that lid and walk away. We could have dressed up that freezer, even painted it a new color, but that wouldn’t have changed what was inside it. We could have hired a psychotherapist to talk to the fridge, maybe a pastor could have come by and cast a demon out of the thing. It would not have mattered. Dress up that thing any way you want and the fact remains that it still is a freezer full of rotting fish. No amount of therapy could have changed that.

That’s alot like me… like you. I try to make excuses for my problems and blame someone else but at the end of the day the fact remains that it is still my mess-o-fish. It is not my ex-wife’s problem or my kids or my parents, it isn’t even my ex-bosses issue – it is mine alone. At the end of the day I can blame whoever I want, it’s still my problem.

So why is this so hard to accept? Perhaps because blaming other people relieves me of some of the responsibility. Many of us have been through horrific situations wrought by dysfunctional and abusive people who scarred us for life. Unfortunately, however, they are not going to fix us. Most of them will not even feel responsible. No one else is going to help us heal.

Other people may be to blame, but that doesn’t really matter much, now does it. It’s up to us to find a healing, a solution, or a way of coping. It may seem far easier to go through life wounded, blaming others for my issues but at the end of the day I am the only one who is going to miss out of this one life, this one chance at happiness and wholeness.

There is an iconic scene in the movie American History X where the skinhead Derek Vineyard, after being gang-raped by his once cohorts while in prison, has a visit from his African-American high school principal. The principal, Bob Sweeney, who has watched Derek self-destruct as he blamed everyone else for his pain, says, “There was a moment, when I used to blame everything and everyone for all the pain and suffering and vile things that happened to me, that I saw happen to my people. Used to blame everybody. Blamed white people, blamed society, blamed God. I didn’t get no answers ’cause I was asking the wrong questions. You have to ask the right questions.”

Derek turns to him and asks, “Like what?”

Sweeney replies, “Has anything you’ve done made your life better?”

That is a profound question. He knew Derek had pains and hurts, grudges both valid and vile. Like many of us Derek had been damaged by someone or something. Violated. Carrying that hate and that pain was all that he knew. How could he possibly get on with his life after what had happened to him?

Some time ago I wrote a letter to someone who had hurt me, never intending on sending it. The next morning my wife saw it before I could get up and mailed it, as a courtesy. A few weeks later I got a phone call from that old friend. He could not understand why I was angry.

Think about it. For seven years he had not been carrying that pain I felt almost everyday. For seven years he had been perfectly happy and content. He didn’t hurt, only I did. It hadn’t ruined his life.

Has anything you’ve done made your life better?

6 thoughts on “The Smell Of Rotting Fish

  1. I think the best thing I ever did in life (for myself) was learn to respect and accept other peoples’ boundaries.
    I realized that a lot of hurt I’ve felt in my life (my adult life anyways- child abuse etc is another story) is because I felt rejected when I found myself at the wall of someone’s boundary. I couldn’t understand that it is perfectly healthy and normal, instead I made it about myself, I focused on what I had done wrong, or what qualities I was lacking.
    Once I learned to respect them in other people, I eventually learned to develop them for myself. When you respect peoples’ limits they respect yours and you may find over time that they evolve, maybe even becoming much softer.

  2. Scott, thank you for stopping and liking a post. The Rules for Being Human is a post that has just grown legs and people seem to find there way to it. This is a great question and I will have to reflect on it a bit. I think writing poetry after a very long break from it has made my life better. Being lucky and finding my wife along the way has helped. Those are two things, but I suspect that there are others that require time to percolate and surface just like the fish.

    I look forward to following your blog.

    Take care,

    Ivon

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