Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Learning to Lose

I still am fascinated by Saffron Gates, most particularly by the passion that inspired Christo and Jeanne Claude to persist in the face of numbing bureaucracy and outright opposition. Averse to conflict as I am, I come back again and again that the small number of failures I have experienced in my life may insinuate a different kind of failure, shortness of vision or lack of courage.

I don’t enjoy failure, no, not at all, at all. Anyone who has been subjected to my latest round of self-questioning about my divorce twenty years ago might suspect I take some sort of perverse pleasure in it, but eventually even I look at the situation…again…and say “There were two of you in the situation. You both tried and came up short. You both did your best. It happens. Get over it. The sin would be to let it rule your life. Who do you think you are to expect that you will never fail? How arrogant!”

One can argue about whether this process should happen in a year or three or twenty; conceptually one can argue that we should never let go of marriages. The truth is probably that it is less about what we oughta do in a situation and more about recognizing the reality that has occurred. That process takes whatever time it takes, and there is really no point in beating ourselves up for not meeting some imagined, self-imposed timetable.

What if we were to accept failure, really allow that it does happen in our lives? What if we put less energy into recasting situations as just another victory in disguise? What if we threw ourselves fully into each envisioned victory. Each project, throughout its life from birth to resolution, is in some sense a failure right up to the moment it is achieved or abandoned. When Christo and Jeanne Claude say they have eighteen completed projects and thirty-eight not yet realized…are the thirty-eight failures, or are they still live battles, successes still in process of being achieved? I suspect there is a mixture of campaigns in process, battles properly fled, and some that are inactive, resting as the artists store up energy to rejoin the fray, or simply wait for more hospitable conditions.

If we accept failure, we clear the decks for more attention to the issues that deserve our best efforts. If we accept failure, we learn from what didn’t work and try a different approach on some new project, maybe one that is stronger and truer from inception. If we accept failure, we stop focusing on the same old battles and move on to something new: we grow. If we accept failure, we accept ourselves. If we accept failure, we recognize the truth that we are like the rest of God’s children, fundamentally flawed but unconditionally loved, glorious in our capacity to envision the new and pursue it with passion. The number of failures in our lives then becomes a scorecard that reflects how completely we threw ourselves into this brilliant game we call life.


Lorianne said...

Yep, I hear you (unfortunately!) on this one. When I told my good Irish Catholic mother about my impending divorce, I expected a guilt trip...but to her credit, she kept saying over & over, "Don't feel like you've failed: these things happen." It was a wonderful gift to hear her of all people say that...but I can't say I entirely *believe* it yet. Mentally, yes: "these things happen." But viscerally, emotionally, it still *feels* like I've failed, like I quit, like I was/am somehow lacking.

I think this is the crevice into which the seeds of compassion fall & then grow. If we've never failed, how can we truly love (and forgive) other failures?

Anonymous said...

Great post-- failure can either be what we beat ourselves up with, or what we learn from-- our choice entirely. ~bluepoppy

Visual-Voice said...

When I read an entry like this one it makes me so grateful that I didn't fail to hit your blog and take the time to read the words you so generously share from your heart.

'Tis true, we all suffer. I'm beginning to think that without failure we'd never know what our greatest achievemnents are. There are dragons that fly into our lives to make sure we don't fall asleep and miss what we're here for... was that a dragon? or an angel that just flew by?

I love your blog.

Karen said...

Thank you all so much for these wonderful comments.