The Deeper Truth Behind Cautionary Tales
Acknowledging What We Need to Understand
When I Was Your Man (Cover) Performed Live by Roqué Marcelo:
I have been thinking a lot lately about cautionary tales. They are direct descendants of that whole “hindsight is 20/20” dynamic, which I personally find frustrating. This frustration often comes with that damning realization that I should have known better. Cautionary tales exist to warn us about the pitfalls of unwise decisions and the perils of inaction, for better or worse.
Featured above is a live recording I made of a song I recently learned to play. It is my rendition of a song by Bruno Mars called When I Was Your Man. By the time the chorus chimes in, you feel like you have been punched in the gut. The character in the song is lamenting over all of the opportunities he squandered in which he should have expressed his love for someone who meant everything to him—giving flowers, holding hands, and ultimately, being more present with his affection and emotions.
He looks back at “all the things [he] should have done” and wrestles with his own regret and despair at the thought of it all. As I have been learning this song, it has given me time reflect on why cautionary tales exist.
By varying degrees, they happen as a result of not paying enough attention to what is happening in front of you—not questioning and not thoughtfully observing something that is of great value in your life.
Couples get divorced because one partner failed to see how unhappy the other person has been for a very long time, despite numerous red flags waving vigorously.
An employee second-guesses and downplays their genuine reaction to a snide remark from a manager only to find out later how terrible that person actually is after being unjustly shamed by them in front of the entire staff. This is a cautionary tale of how they should have paid more attention to their intuition and not dismissed their own feelings. Doing so would have informed the degree to which they should have trusted that person.
Of course, it is impossible to know everything and easy to become anxious and paranoid if you are constantly on edge about something. I am suggesting that we slow down, observe, and assess every once in a while when it comes to something of immense importance in your life or someone you love. Be honest with your feelings without jumping to conclusions, second-guessing them, or even discounting them completely. Just sit with what you are feeling and let it settle. In time, make an effort to do something active to address what you have unearthed. This may involve an uncomfortable conversation, seeking an outside opinion from a friend or a therapist, or more research. If, in the end, you only end up with more information, this is still better than nothing and far more preferable than being caught off guard and completely blindsided.
I have lived through my fair share of cautionary tales. I once fell in love with someone who treated me unkindly. Looking back, it was so obvious, but I wanted it to work out so badly that I soaked in his dismissive remarks and condescension. It was a hard lesson and a cautionary tale about what it means to truly be loved by someone. I know now that someone who loves you will not treat you unkindly. Of course, I should have known better at the time.
In life, bad situations will happen to all of us, but paying attention can mean the difference between falling into cyclical toxic patterns and living a more joyful life. I prefer option number two.
I try to make time to slow down once in a while. I quietly assess and contemplate what stands before me. These are the defenses I choose to employ.
Cautionary tales be damned.
When I Was Your Man
—Written by Bruno Mars, Philip Lawrence, Ari Levine, Andrew Wyatt
—Performed by Roqué Marcelo
Art by Roqué Marcelo
Where Pianos Roam is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.