I’ve failed at everything in life. What I’ve learned is that it is possible to fail at everything and still find some happiness from time to time. I blame many of my failures on my own incompetence and bad choices. But also, people hate me.
It doesn’t matter how much a person knows or how capable they are; unpopular people don’t do well. People have pulled the rug out from under me many times; I never seem to be alert enough to anticipate what bad thing is coming next and how to avoid it. I’ve never been able to tell who my friends are, and who those folks are whose kindness is a mask they wear to disarm and humiliate me.
At age twelve, I found myself one weekend-day carefully sweeping out the family garage with an old straw broom my dad provided. He stood over me glaring as I worked methodically, making sure to sweep up all the dirt I could find. I felt myself becoming fascinated by how much dirt there was; and at all the unlikely places it seemed to be. I’d never noticed dirt in our garage before. How did it get there? Where did it come from? What harm was it doing laying there in corners and crevices that most people would never see?
Suddenly, Dad grabbed the broom out of my hands. This is how you sweep out a garage, helpless! he barked. Swish, swish, swish and he was done and walked out.
I cringed when I heard the word, helpless, because I knew he was right. I was helpless. I was incompetent. I was a failure. It was all true; every mean thing he said about me, anytime we were together, which wasn’t much. Dad was a busy man. He did important work—work that only men who aren’t helpless can do. But he was never too busy to teach me to despise myself.
Eventually, with help from friends and—in my case, at least—counselors, my dad and I changed as the years went by; I got worse, then later—after I screwed up everything I loved about my life—I got better; I would say Dad and me became better people; we mellowed; we learned to love and push aside hate; I even learned to embrace my incompetence and bad decisions; I learned to endure those who made it their business to malign me, which gave me wisdom, one psychologist told me.
My failures made me unique; a person with value, because there was only one person like me in the world who hurt like I hurt; who suffered like I suffered. It meant something somehow to suffer as only I could.
God loved me, a pastor told me.
After my dad died, people who knew him well said that he suffered from fears I couldn’t imagine during those times in my life when I thought I knew him best.
Eventually I decided that success is not necessary, it really isn’t. It’s a wonderful thing to be loved and validated; to set goals and achieve them, but for most people it just isn’t going to happen. We need alternatives to success and popularity to keep going. I do, anyway.
We might be better served if we accept failure and condemnation as natural and inevitable. Failure doesn’t mean we have no worth or are bad people. Does it? Of course not. Sometimes people hate us so much they pray for us to fail. Don’t they? No one can do anything good at all when the world hates everything they do and say.
Some of the most successful and popular people on earth would be better off had they not been born. If God exists and the Bible is true, success and being loved might not be goals anyone should worship too intensely.
Loving others might be a better goal. Of course, I’ve failed at that too. It’s hard to love people who say I am wicked; who see malevolent intent in everything I have ever said or done.
Maybe forgiving and being forgiven is what love is; it’s what heals us and those we care about; it’s what restores optimism and frees us to relax and enjoy the gifts that God gives to help people live without shame on a tiny planet called Earth in the twenty-first century of time-everlasting.
I know this: life ends badly for everyone. Most people aren’t ready for death when it finally comes. My wife’s dad told me the night he died that he thought he would have more time; maybe to get himself organized, I thought when he said it. I wasn’t sure what he meant. I didn’t ask him to elaborate. I wish I had.
I don’t have the answers. I don’t know what is true or what is false. I don’t know what is real and what is pretend. I don’t know why I was born or why people tell me I will die. I don’t believe I will die. I really don’t.
No person I’ve ever truly loved has ever died. I don’t believe in death. I never will.
Yes, I could be wrong.
If it turns out that I don’t know what the hell I’m pontificating about, etch on my tombstone (or urn)—who knows what it might be?; scratch with a stick in the ground by the compost pile, if anyone is left who might still care—words I wrote when young enough to write verse and make sense:
I am at the end of my precious life.
I want a drink, but my throat is parched, and I can’t make the sounds to ask.
I want a kind look, but my eyes are sore and too filled with tears to see.
I want a happy memory, but the pain of many haters numbs my mind.
I want justice, but this world comforts the powerful.
I am at death’s door.