When I lived in Baltimore, my neighborhood book club read Ian McEwan’s Atonement. A few years later, I saw the movie. Ah, if only I could write with McEwan’s fine precision and capture the film’s brilliant cinematographic scenes. But there was a problem: I hated the end of the story because neither book nor movie had anything to do with atonement. And a few of McEwan’s reviewers on Amazon agreed. Not that I’m an atonement expert – quite the contrary. I’m a perfectionist with a helper wing. When faced with a fearful situation that makes me feel helpless, I tend to lapse into denial (This can’t be happening), angry blame (How could you do that? What were you thinking?), self-defense (I am not being unreasonable) and self-pity (After all my hard work…). Only with calm can I examine my actions, admit my errors and work towards making better decisions. Atonement is yet another step. And if this sounds like the Twelve Steps of Al-Anon, you are correct. I’ve read that most families, particularly parents, work hard to project and protect the “perfection” myth and don’t take kindly to members who peel away the veneer. That is not my purpose. I am only trying to peel away my own false veneer. To me, that’s the meaning of the Serenity Prayer: I cannot change anything or anyone except my behavior and myself. I cannot change the fact that I am a helping perfectionist. Being one is usually good news. But now that I know that I’ve crossed the line in the past, I can make amends and try to repair the damage of my intrusions. So what do I need to change? What wrong do I want to right? My daughter is coming to Vanaprastha later this week. I am going to ask her to take a walk. I am ready to have that long-overdue conversation. I am ready to make direct amends to her. I am ready to listen. This is atonement. Are you ready?
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