There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk

POSTED September 10, 2023 IN

At my recommendation, some friends accompanied me to hear one of my favorite musical groups at a small local club. Rising Appalachia is a sister group from New Orleans. The last time I saw them was at a small gathering in someone’s living room. Pleased as punch to be able to share this group with my friends we all showed up as the doors opened.

The lack of a line of enthusiastic fans at the ticket counter should have alerted me to the fact that this was not going to turn out to be a comparable experience as the first time around. I must admit, the last time I was in a club situation was at the Fillmore West in the 1960s to see the Steve Miller Band. I was totally unprepared for a small club scene in the 21st century. There were tables bordering a large open space in front of a stage. I felt quite pleased that we got a table right in the front. It was 7:00 pm, we bought some drinks at the bar. Sharing some pleasantries we waited for the event to begin. After about an hour a DJ started playing some dance music and 20somethings began squeezing on to the dance floor. There were so many bodies in front of us we could not even see the stage over the heads of the crowded floor. It was now close to 10:00 pm and the “girls” finally arrived. With all the buzz of the crowd looking for hook-ups we could barely hear the music much less see them.

Our group retreated to the balcony but that didn’t offer much improvement to our situation so we fled the scene. I felt deep embarrassment and couldn’t apologize enough to my group. This was not the experience I promised them. Of course they were gracious and told me it was fine.

However, I could not shake this feeling of mortification and by the next morning my feelings of shame and dismay rose up like a genie looming large from an uncorked bottle. I felt I was in the throes of some demonic force that had been crouched with profound patience, waiting for the right moment to spring up and shake me to the core.

I tried to soothe myself with the tale that it was only my inner pharmacy that was causing my distress. I rationalized that it was the release cortisol and other miserable hormones that caused my insides to quiver and cower. But this explanation didn’t fully validate the trickle of memories, past transgressions, regrets, guilts, and feelings of unworthiness that soon became a torrent.

Desperate to find relief I went to the medicine cabinet to see if I had an old bottle of valium. Coming up empty, I abandoned that strategy and put on some headphones and tried to relax into a guided meditation on the Blue Flame. With my adrenals somewhat soothed, I did a little dancing to some hip-hop music, and then I did some journaling. I found that what seemed to trigger all this upset was the fact that I felt myself responsible for the experience of others and this feeling hooked itself to memories of shame and self-reproach. I wrote about a poster I once read about falling into a hole in the sidewalk. Not being able to recall all the details of the poster, I googled it and came up with the following which is from a small book by the late Portia Nelson. The poem is what ultimately helped me to let go of the wretchedness that was dogging me.

Here is the poem that is included in her small volume:

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An Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

Chapter 1

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost… I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter 2 

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes me a long time to get out.

Chapter 3 

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in. It’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault. I get out immediately.

Chapter 4 

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter 5

I walk down another street.

There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk by Portia Nelson
(35th Anniversary Edition) (Atria Books 2012)

— Justine Willis Toms
November 2014

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