Nurturing Guilt

I wanted to keep some of this private, but I’ve realized that guilt needs some nurturing for it to be a productive force. And, I have to admit that guilt has its face in much of my life’s business; white guilt, colonial guilt, childhood guilt, sibling guilt, parental guilt, teacher guilt. Yet, despite my hesitation to speak or write about this, I know that guilt unacknowledged or untended grows like weeds choking up the host leaving no room for other forms of life. It’s like those few extra pounds around my hips that I can ignore if I never observe myself from behind. Some things need to be acknowledged, others can be hidden with the right clothes.

So here is part of the story.

A long time ago, I sought therapy to help me manage the stark reality of having a severely disabled child. I was convinced that my actions during pregnancy had caused my daughter’s seizure disorder and impending very dependent life. I was responsible for this mess, but now someone else, someone innocent, had to share the cost with me.

During one of our hour-long sessions, I seemed to have a moment of clarity in which I saw all the guilt that I had carried forward from my mother, letting it weigh me down as I willfully ignored the burden, and I could see myself passing this on into the future to my three children. I couldn’t let this happen, so I asked Dr Boulais for parenting advice and he was succinct; “I tell everyone the same thing. Deal with your own shit.”

Now, twenty-five years later, I have realized the many benefits of having to care for my disabled child, given up the selfish notion that it was my fault, and what seemed to be irreconcilable has been reconciled for me. I feel like this is cause for hope as I face the truth of my white privilege, the truth of our colonized curriculum, and the lack of diversity in the buildings in which I teach.

Although I have shed some of the childhood, sibling, and parental guilt, I have to admit that I do feel guilty for Canada’s role in harming our First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples. I do feel guilty for the residential schools, I do feel guilty for the reserves, and the lack of clean drinking water at Attawapiskat, a national disgrace.

But that guilt needs tending, it needs some action, so as these summer days shorten and new ground is about to be broken with Indigenous Studies in grade 11 English at my school, I am going to nurture that guilt. I am going to deal with my own shit. I am going to raise up and celebrate our First Nations, Metis, and Inuit, and I am going to need some help if I am going to become an ally. The seeds of guilt can grow when exposed to the truth and when nurtured out in the open.

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