It’s not like I've never failed before.
In fact I have previously failed to pass the test, failed to make the grade, failed to remember the milk, failed to remove the tag, failed to make a payment, failed to get the girl, failed to keep the job, failed to hide the evidence, failed to launch, failed to remember to floss, failed to catch the flight, failed to clean up the mess, failed to give her pleasure, failed to split the log, failed to say the right thing, failed to convince the judge, failed to conceal my excitement, failed to make the call, failed to remember her name, failed to stir the oatmeal, failed to be a good example, failed to keep the secret, failed to win her back, failed to clear my reputation, failed to make the light, failed to understand, failed to win the lottery, failed to complete the project, failed to thrive, and failed to save the day, just to mention a few. All of which I got over, one way or another, and then I kept moving forward with life.
Given my vast experience with failure, why was this particular failure such a smash on the rocks? Was it because it was so public? I mean, I had openly shared my big plans publicly for months, and a lot of people were following my progress. I definitely had a big investment in looking good to my friends and readers. And maybe, if I could pull this one off it might cancel out some of those previous failures. If I did this really well I might finally get the girl and ride off into the sunset, at the very least, and at very long last, and maybe make my enemies feel miserable, and possibly even win the jackpot.
I had the plan down cold. After all, I had been working out the details in my mind for most of my adult life. It was etched in gold, my plan, and I had the blessings of many fans and friends of varying repute. People liked it, they really liked it, and they seemed to be lined up waving goodbye and wishing me well, and genuinely wanting me to succeed. And when I was finished they said they’d buy the book about how I had done it. Everything seemed to be coming together organically. How could I possibly miss the bull’s-eye with so much of the universe in alignment with my sights?
But miss it I did, in a failure of truly legendary proportions. That knocked me down, knocked me dumb, knocked me sideways, knocked me out… not just for the long count, but for more than a year. I couldn’t explain it, couldn’t get my arms around it, couldn’t write about it, didn’t know where to begin, and had no words to describe what had happened, even to myself. So I avoided talking about it, ignored it holistically, changed the subject as quickly as I could when it came up, and diverted both external and internal inquiries with trivial, amusing words of no real import. All I knew was that I was done. Well and truly done. I had nothing left. I was used up. Nothing could put Humpty back together again.
I was the living inverse of Texas songwriter Walt Wilkin’s rousing gospel song “Stand Up Seven,” apparently having fallen one more time than I could get back up. I raucously twisted his words:
"You got to fall down seven times, get up six!" I sang
"Fall down seven times, get up six!" (tambourine hit)
"Fall down seven times, get up six!" (guitar solo)
The cold black shadow which I had been avoiding so assiduously finally caught my deliberately wandering attention. “You got old,” it hisspered. “That’s what happened. You’re not a young man any more. You got old!”
I thought I had been clever, getting all the way to retirement without ever formally declaring what I was going to do when I grew up. Not that I hadn't become an adult and done adult things. But my friends say I've always retained a kind of childlike wonder and curiosity, with maybe just a touch too much innocence and trust. And though I avoided talk about getting old as too self-fulfilling I observed with some detachment the aging process having its inevitable way with me. I made small adjustments here and there for various reductions in ability, decreases of flexibility, and losses of strength. And I was at peace, for the most part, with the changes in my appearance. But I’d never grasped the totality of the encroachments on my physical abilities until I became seriously ill, and I finally realized I was no longer capable of carrying out my younger self’s plan. I wouldn't be the one climbing that ladder after all, not me, and I wouldn't be hoisting that rafter, no, and I wouldn't be nailing that roof down. I’d gotten old.
After a very long sulk, though, months and months and months, I eventually found I was quite bored with all that, and I had the new thought that I wasn't really “OLD” old. Not yet. I’d definitely gotten older, and I had to accept that I’d lost some abilities I used to enjoy. And I’d failed a really big failure this time, right out in the open where everyone could see it. Still, it hadn't killed me, it just hurt like hell. As I came to embrace the truth of where I was now in life, and where I was not, the dark shadow gradually retreated, and I started to feel freer. Though I could not restore Mr. Dumpty to his previous glory, I realized I could still tell his story.
“Yes,” my beautiful friend beamed, as I shared this realization with someone else for the first time, “You should!” That finally did the trick. That simple acceptance of all that had happened and of where I was now, free of any judgment, first by myself, and then by another person, finally cast off the last of the funk that had gripped me so long. Without conscious effort, I found that once more I was standing.
And so I begin again.
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Photo & Text © 2012 David Kinne
“Stand Up Seven,” from the CD “Diamonds In the Sun,” by Walt Wilkins & The Mystequieros. http://www.waltwilkins.com/
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