I first became familiar with the term “walk of shame” as a student at the University of Southern California, where the term was used to describe the sad walk one makes in the morning in one’s clothing from the previous night after having hooked up with someone one didn’t know and woke up without any mutual interest in a more serious relationship, or even the kind offer of a ride home. Although I have never hooked up, many of the people I know made such walks of shame during their time in college or caused others to make such sad walks back home on Sabbath mornings after a debauched night of partying. I always felt very sad about those making the walk, wondering what sort of sadness or desires drive them to such a waste of their own hearts and bodies. We are all worth more than walking along the road in dirty clothes wondering why things went wrong.
Today I had an opportunity, if it may be called that, to participate in a supporting role in a different type of a walk of shame, one I have had to make a few times on the other side. For reasons that were not explained to me (which is probably a good thing), I had to escort a former coworker who I did not know well at all out of the building after she collected her belongings. I could tell she was trying to make sure that she collected her belongings and tried to prolong the trip, in order to preserve some of her personal dignity, which is a difficult process in shocking and surprising events like being fired. Having been fired myself, I was aware of how I had felt in such circumstances, even if I had never been on the other side myself. I pondered to myself about how entering any kind of leadership position often leads to dealing with matters of discipline. No godly person should enjoy disciplining or punishing others, even if a sense of justice is necessary for the well-being of one’s institutions as well as the person being disciplined.
Later today I found out about a different walk of shame that someone I know had been involved in. Though I do not like being around smoking at all, given my own concern for my health and my own sensitivity to cigarette smoke, I happen to work with a lot of smokers. One of the people I work with does not apparently have enough money to buy his own cigarettes to bring to work, and so he smokes the cigarette butts left behind by coworkers who have enough money on hand to buy cigarettes themselves. This realization made me feel a rather complicated set of feelings. On the one hand, I thought it was gross and disgusting that he would smoke second hand cigarette butts. On the other hand, I felt a great deal of pity that he would be in the grips of such an addiction that he would be willing to sacrifice his dignity in such a fashion because of his desire for nicotine. It is a shame that our longings often lead us into situations that rob us of a great deal of our dignity and reputation, and I suppose I have little room to be too critical, despite my own revulsion.
All too often in life, people face the problem of the walk of shame in some fashion because of the experiences and situations that we find ourselves in. Despite our best efforts to preserve our own dignity and respect the dignity and honor that is due to others, often our longings and the longings of others lead us into situations that lead to a great deal of shame and guilt. Being someone who has always sought to avoid making others feel guilty or ashamed in their own relations or interactions with me, and being someone who absolutely hates the embarrassment and humiliation that comes from being in such situations myself, I would hope to do what I could to help others avoid any walks of shame even as I try to avoid taking any of such walks myself. May we find a way to fulfill our longings legitimately in such a way that does not lead to shame or awkwardness or guilt for anyone, even if such matters appear very difficult from where we now stand.