When I was young, we had quite a few books from the Serendipity series. I loved those books. I still do. They’re awesome. There were some that most certainly were my sister’s and some that were definitely mine. I knew the stories inside and out. I loved the fuzzy dudes in Bangalee who insisted it was cool to be messy, til the trash monster showed up. The look on the gnome from nome and his otter friend’s face when they discover the secret of how to keep warm almost makes me cry just thinking about it. The wheedle on the needle and his awesome earmuffs. How sad catundra was when the other forest creatures made fun of her. How incredibly beautiful the world is through the eyes of kartusch the blind snake. Oh! And there was one with crystalline illustrations so utterly beautiful..I can’t remember which one that was. I think it had a flower. There was a deer who was the most beautiful deer, and she came across a lizard who was the most beautiful lizard and they stood there to let the other admire them, never realizing in the grass there was a mouse who was the most beautiful mouse. I have no idea what the lesson was in that one, but it was a really beautiful mouse.
I could go on and on about every character in every book, how the illustrations held me in thrall, and how much I’ve carried with me because of these stories. But the one that I recall in my mind tonight is Cap’n Smudge. We never had the actual book about Serendipity, I have no idea what her story was. But I knew she was important because the publishing company was named after her, she was on every single book! The first time I encountered her was in Cap’n Smudge. The upshot of the story is this. Cap’n Smudge is a foul dude with a dirty beard and a sad looking mudlark friend because he can’t afford a parrot. He has a peg leg that’s actually a mop handle(the other sailors set his on fire and he couldn’t afford a new one) so he has a nasty temperament and everyone gives him a wide berth. He consistently pollutes the ocean because all the other sailors rely on fishing to earn their keep and they keep catching garbage. They ask Serendipity for help. She approaches him and asks him to stop being a douchebag and he throws a bunch of garbage on her. Finally she breaks through his rough exterior and learns that he’s not a bad guy but after being treated so abhorrently for so long by the actual douchebags of the story, of course he’s fucking angry. They give him a new peg leg and apologize and he takes a bath, then there’s a poem. I don’t know if that counts as being the “upshot” of the story because it’s mostly the whole thing. I’m not sure I know what an upshot actually is.
The reason why this book has a resonance tonight is because lately I’ve been getting angry about stuff that I should have let go of because it’s toxic to hold on to shite. Ok yes, no one set my legs on fire and then made fun of my inability to afford new legs. But hurt is hurt and when friends do or say things that hurt you, goddamn it hurts! And it hurts way more than if a stranger does it. A stranger calls you names or lies to you or tells you you’re a shitty person, who gives a fuck? What do they know? But if it’s someone you love, someone whose opinion matters, that can kill you. It’s really hard in the moment to consider that this person doesn’t know you that well because they love you, don’t they? Even if their actions or words right this second suggest they might be talking about a different person. This is the place I fucking live. I CONSIDER THAT SOMEONE ELSE KNOWS THE TRUTH ABOUT ME MORE THAN I DO BECAUSE I’M SUCH A GODDAMN SHITTY HUMAN. How do we get to this point where we doubt the sanity of knowing our own minds so easily.
I consider and carry and hold that there is something in me I’m in such denial about, that I am so oblivious to and THANK FUCKING GOD YOU POINTED IT OUT BECAUSE HERE I WAS WALKING AROUND THINKING I WAS PRETTY FUCKING OKAY.
Fuck off. But it’s someone you love, it’s someone who wouldn’t hurt you unless of course they were in such pain themselves that they need a place for that pain to go, that isn’t them. So in the moment, perhaps all you can do is wallow in this place of not being as good or healthy or sane a person as you had thought you were.
That’s where perspective comes in. No one has the right to make you feel anything you don’t give them the power to. GodDAMN I used to hate it when my mom said that, but she’s right. The problem is, we put so much stock in what our loved ones think of us, we don’t often separate what’s happening with them from what’s happening with us. It’s really easy to take things personally. It’s also easy to project that hurt back onto them, later (sometimes years later) when you realize where it was coming from and honestly it had very little to do with you. That doesn’t stop the hurt, but it might start the grudge. The cap’n grudge. The I’m going to spend the next 7 years throwing garbage into your ocean and you’re going to eat boot rather than humuhumunukunukupua’a (yes, that’s a real fish) because you set my leg on fire.
And here’s the dirty part. The gum wrappers in your beard part…
It feels good to hold a grudge.
As weird and wrong as that sounds, and even while it’s slowly killing you inside, there is a delicious righteousness to it. Because if you can have a grudge against someone or something, there’s a seeming justification there. You are right to think they were douchebags for setting your peg leg on fire. But are you going to react by dumping garbage in the ocean so they can’t catch anything but boots?
Not everyone has a large pink sea serpent to intervene and be the voice of reason. We have to be our own voices of reason and fuck that’s hard to do. It’s hard to be around someone who you know so well, who hurt you or someone close to you so much and still feel the same way about them. It might never happen. You might never know the whole story, never know how you would have reacted in that situation. It’s so fucking easy to say, well I would have had more honour, more honesty, more openness, less hurt, less confusion, more understanding. But the reality is, you don’t know.
Honestly, and I use that word knowing myself to be a storyteller with a talent for whimsy and fancy, there is no reason to lie. There is no reason to hide. There is no reason not to trust that someone who loves you won’t understand how painful it can be to live with something you don’t think you could ever share.
Conversely, I’m hopeful there is no reason not to forgive someone. Sometimes it takes time. I would imagine in some instances it might take a lifetime. It might never ever be the same again, but the hope is that we’re better for change, as painful and tumultuous it might be in the moment. Hopefully it eventually seems reasonable that the change had to happen, if only to spur one from a scenario where stagnation is confused with contentment.
And so, keeping in the spirit of those wonderful books by Stephen Cosgrove and illustrated by Robin James, I’ll finish with a poem that should concisely, coherently and rhymingly sum up everything I’ve said.
If you are feeling angry
Because a friend has done you wrong
And in the moment you don’t know
They just aren’t feeling strong
It’s hard to be compassionate
It’s quite tough not to judge
Breathe in, breathe out
And don’t be cap’n grudge.
Your legs are not on fire
Your life is yours to live
How much healthier will it feel
If you could just forgive?
It was Shimmeree! The one with the flower was Shimmeree!!!