Sunday, December 18, 2011

When Failure Is Good

Tonight, year-end deadlines gather and perch in my thoughts, impatient like Hitchcock's "Birds" on nearby power lines, ready to swoop down, sinking their claws of guilt deep into my conscience. Only a few days ago, at least it seems, the year was fresh. But now 2011 has all but disappeared, leaving too much disappointment. How easy it seems to beat ourselves up (and perhaps others) for failure to meet our expectations. Or blame my demon, Parkinson's.
Last night, four of us, good friends for all kinds of reasons, sat for more than four hours in the small and seasonally noisy restaurant. We had enjoyed meals there together before, shared stories, laughter and heartaches, but last night seemed different. It was one of those times when everyone seemed to share a common theme, something that bound us together, as it does much of our generation, without fully recognizing it. We were driven by high expectations. And, more powerfully, we bear the burden of them unfulfilled, at least to some extent. Other patrons, seated nearby, glanced up from time to time and must have struggled to decipher the snippets of intense discussions they had overheard. When we finally surrendered up our table we felt a little lighter, not physically but emotionally, yet the question plagued me. How can we stretch toward the stars, make dreams come true, and pursue the barely possible, without the whiplash, the fatigue and the soul-deep sense of loss and failure?

Perhaps, and this is but my theory, my peers and I, in our thirst for achievement, our naïve race towards frontiers of unimaginable complexity, and our mindless pursuit of plenty, we failed to see that we must ultimately lose all that we had gained. We failed to learn the good of that.

It is in failure that we learn what we're made of.

It is in the simple that we gain depth.

It is through the losing that we recognize true value.

It is in knowing need that teaches us thankfulness.

It is through fear that we experience current.

And it is in sharing them all that we know love and true friendship.

So as the door closes on another year, and I am tempted to do penance for my failures, my promises unkept, and my deepest disappointments, I will not call them failures but simply a prayer for strength and humility so that I might grasp the opportunity to grow and learn. Who knows the tests ahead?  There is room for failure.

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