Have you ever watched someone teetering on a log over a stream?  Trying desperately to stay on top of, and not in, the water below?  With chest this way and butt that way, circling arms round and round like the tail on a squirrel crossing a telephone wire.  Have you ever jumped curbs or leapt puddles engaging in all manner of weird bodily contortions in an attempt to avoid getting wet?

When I was young I lived on a lake.  This was in the sixties when people were somewhat more tolerant of “tomfoolery” than they are today.  My parents ran a mountain resort with a little café, fishing boats and rental cabins; we catered to tourists.  At least once each summer a few wise guys would, with apparent randomness of thought, get the idea that it was time to toss everyone in the lake.

Only the too young and the too feeble were exempt.

The potential victims, in their best attempts to avoid the inevitable, would make emergency trips to the bathroom, hide in their cars or behind their couch, or find ever-so-important business to be about.  My Dad was fond of putting on his suit as if he were going to the city for supplies.  It didn’t matter.  The instigators would find, and if necessary drag the reluctants by hand and foot to the end of the dock where they benevolently gave them the opportunity to remove watches, rings, wallets and other valuables, and with a one, two, three heave, throw them kicking and screaming into the water.  Not only was the water snow only a few days before, it floated stuff like dead fish and foam as thick as meringue.

There was one and only one escape, and that was to be already wet.

Dry humans were the target.  As a youngster I watched people transform from terrified, protesting, and angry, to relieved and frivolous once they were dunked.  The threat was over, they had joined the ranks of the drenched.  Often they would remain in the water, laughing with glee, assuring the next victim.  There was a certain sort of kinship amongst the wet when it was all over and the fish-smelling squeaky bodies were having a beer, drying in the sun, and sorting their jewelry.

The Lake of Failure

This whole scene came back to me recently when I was thrown headlong into the lake of failure in my own life.  Having experienced less significant failures throughout my life and finding no redeeming qualities among them, I sought to avoid future failures at all costs.  I set my life up to play not to lose.  I locked myself away, hid, dressed up, tried to be busy, and performed all manner of weird body and soul contortions in an attempt to avoid the experience of failure.  That experience was below the line of the living.  It was the place for losers, demons, and rejects. Not me.

As a culture we are addicted to winners and winning.

We worship star athletes and super heroes.  There is little regard for second best, for a red ribbon or a silver medal.  The process of learning from failure is viewed with all the affection of the plague.

I once thought that having more self-confidence was the key to living with failure.  It isn’t.  Failing is the key to living with failure.  Once wet, soaked, drenched in the pool of failure, life opens up. There are no more pretenses.  The hair is messed up, the makeup running, the nicely ironed shirt has a dead fish in the pocket.  Muck fills the shoes.  The playing field is leveled.   We have faced the boogy-man and found out that he’s all wet too.  We can then ceremoniously jump back in with the next frightened soul to keep him company, and from that now familiar place, curiously observe the antics of others determined to avoid the experience.

Failing is not equal to being a failure.

Failing is the arena of winners.  It is only when we give up, when we quit looking, quit trying, that we truly fail.  If we’re going to fall, which is inevitable, let us fall royally and with enough force to propel us again upward.

It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.  ~ T. Roosevelt