It is in no way a fun thing to fail. Even when it’s funny (and many of my failures have been) and isn’t a big deal in the long run, failing sucks. Even if the end result looks successful, failing sucks.
Yesterday I started a class in a nearby Really Big City. We’ll go ahead and call it Difficulty, which I think works well. I’m not very good with big cities—there’s way too much going on, there are too many people, there are buildings that block the sun. I grew up in Suburbia, with Rural about ten miles west. Cities overwhelm me; it’s not that I don’t like them, I’ve loved Dublin, New York, Toronto, San Antonio, Grand Rapids, Milwaukee, Charlotte, Louisville. But cities are so much to me, so big, so incredibly self-contained and busy in a way that just flattens me. God bless the grid system, or I’d never get anywhere at all. So I wound myself up like crazy stressing about this class, about getting there and back, about finding things, making deadlines, the first impression in a new setting with new people.
The ride there went wonderfully—Mr. Great-Heart helped me get to the train station because he is lovely. I spent the whole ride to Difficulty giddy as a child because I love trains, even these newfangled ones that look less like the smoke-belching locomotives and more like streamlined mercury stained with the dust of speed and use. I never tire of the sound of trains, the siren’s call to adventures in new places I’ve not thought of, the impossibility of crossing whole countries in a matter of days, the incredible notion of watching a world fly past you with its colorful houses, its towns following entire existences you will never know. I was super delighted to take the train for the first time in this country and have it go well.
And then I started failing.
I got lost, which is easy for me to do when I don’t know street names and I can’t see the sun. I wasn’t terribly lost, just going the wrong way; I stepped into a hotel lobby and asked for directions and the women were more than happy to turn me around. The walk itself was about 2 miles, which seems like leagues when you’re unsure of where you’re going and worried about making it on time. I did make it in plenty of time and set out to find some lunch, which was another unsuccessful moment of not knowing this city, of not wanting to stray too far lest I not be able to wander back, lest I be late at all for this first day, this first impression, this moment of such intense hope that I not fail this class, too.
I made it to the class, frustrated and tired, and it was fine; I’m in way over my head in terms of intellectual company, as I’m not only by far the youngest but also the one with the least academic credentials. But I think it will work, perhaps, if I make a point to stay on top of everything, if I give this first priority, if I allow that people who are 30 years older than I am are not necessarily smarter but more experienced, which is totally okay. The class ended early and we went for coffee, having real people conversations about strange things in that awkward way of just having met people when you are trying to create an image without anyone being able to see you do so.
And then it was time for me to hoof it back to the station, except that now I really didn’t know where I was because I hadn’t paid enough attention to where the coffee shop was in relation to the place where we had class. I ended up getting myself some 6 or so blocks out of the way and had to hail a cab to get me to the station in anything like enough time to make the train—which I could not miss, as there wasn’t another that day and I had to teach this morning.
I made it to the train, made it back home, Watchful picked me up because she is wonderful, and teaching went incredibly well this morning.
So why was I so angry with myself last night? Because I felt like I had failed. I had gotten lost, allowed myself to get wrapped up in that feeling of being stupid, allowed myself to feel as though I had been defeated by the city. I had this so carefully planned out, and then life happened, and it wasn’t clean and direct anymore. It was a mess, one that I had to deal with on the fly.
But isn’t that what life is?
I came across a quote from Dirty Sexy Ministry that I’m stealing because it’s so applicable: “Faith is not the knowledge that nothing bad will ever happen. Faith is simply, for me, the courage that God is with me in the love, in the fear, in the uncertainty, and in the mess of life.” Faith is understanding that success was having the guts to ask strangers for directions (twice), was having the courage and wherewithal to hail a cab—and have a great conversation on the way about technology and listening to the Koran in Arabic. It was navigating the train station, it was knowing that I have a network of friends who will help me out in this crazy journey to and from Difficulty. Faith is redefining failure such that I see the God moments when I am so incredibly disappointed in myself, but He is not.
He sees that I just had an entire day I would not at all have been able to do five years ago. Is that not, of itself, a worthy weight of success to override my own anger? After all, I get to try again next week.
“I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:9-10, NIV)