As I saw my children swept up into the night sky I knew I had made a terrible mistake. I held the baby in my arms, but the two older ones—Megan, seven, and David, four—were locked behind the bar of a Ferris wheel in a shopping-center carnival. They had begged and clamored until I agreed to let them board the contraption, but now, as they rose into the night, they panicked and began to scream. David's little legs were kicking as he skidded sideways on the slick metal seat. I saw how easily he could slip beneath the narrow bar and fall to the asphalt below.

That was more than a dozen years ago. One revolution of the Ferris wheel was more than enough for my kids, thank you, and within 30 seconds they were safely on the ground beside me again, breathing hard and shaking. I think this was the most terrifying moment in my life as a parent. Nothing else even comes close. Yet looking back now, I can remember it without feeling frightened at all.

It's a funny thing about past emotions. I can remember a time in my life when I was burdened by depression, but I can view it now without feeling sad. I can remember being furious with someone, yet without once again growing angry. I can even remember having a crush on Ringo, and I have no idea what that was about. But when it comes to embarrassment, I can't remember the incident without wanting to crawl under my desk. Embarrassment bursts forth anew at the moment the memory appears, bursts like lemon meringue pie in the face. It's a nearly intolerable feeling, a cousin to outright pain.

I think the reason embarrassment is ever fresh is that it jars our self-image in a way other flaws do not. Embarrassment is the flag flown from the ramparts of pride. For quite a while I didn't ...

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