I went to church on sunday. I know I know… I am not a church goer. I really am not. The whole set up of the pews and the dressing up and the middle of the day (well 10 seems like the middle of the day to me at least) really turns me off. But the community of the whole thing, well I like that. I like that for me, and I like hat for my boys. So, we temporarily replaced our Sunday hike, my back has been completely out of sorts so we needed a replacement activity anyways, and headed to the Unitarian Universalist church down the road. It is a small old barn like building with fresh coats of bold paint on the inside. A children’s garden is showcased next to the stairway where my boys sucked on scallions, hunted down blackberries and chatted with the sweet girl who would romp with them outdoors while Lee and I listened to a pastor named Patience. I could hear shouts of joy and long-winded conversations respectively from my boys while us grown folks talked amongst ourselves on the other side of the wall.
Patience spoke of lost opportunities, and ones that arise from them. She spoke of blatant failures and shortcomings with a bit of laughter and a certain amount of humbleness that I could relate to. Apparantly a student teaching experience with a large red “F” finishing it off was at the top of her list for both a moment lacking as well as a moment of clarity. I like that. Taking a dark moment and seeing what comes next. I suppose that something that is easier to do in the aftermath, but its worth remembering at least.
At that point we were asked to turn to our neighbor and quietly discuss a failure of our own. And if we could, relay what came of it. My partner and I seemed to be on opposite sides of the spectrum. A young retiree with a job behind her that she felt less than stellar about, she wondered what her worth was. I wished I knew her better so I could have comforted her and reminded her of all the people she has touched, or the land she has molded, or the children she has had. But, I didnt and I don’t. So, I told her I can understand that. And that she seemed young to me. Like she could still do just about anything if she wanted.
When it was my turn it was quite honestly hard to settle on just the thing that I felt I had failed the most. But in the light of the words Patience relayed to us, I suppose I was inspired to retell a failure in my own “career” path. For me, I told her, I didn’t fail my student teaching, in fact I did very well, but now, almost five years later, I still have done a thing with it. I know that I have moved many times, had a few children, and a few changes of heart, but I still feel as though I wasted my time. I feel as if even if I knew I wanted to teach that I wouldnt have the courage to try.
So today, in between games of hide and seek in the dark humid air of our living room, or a boy on each hip washing machine go round in the lake, or while pressing a plate on top of a blender with a lid that has gone missing while I mix up a banana smoothie, I realized I have not failed afterall. And neither has my church neighbor. Our paths of success are impossible to measure. Her bird like singing voice loud and clear above the others during the service, her capable sandwhich making hands for the children of the community who are hungry after the service, this is enough. A dramatic career, be it serving others or yourself or a combination of the two, is not the equivalent of a sucessful life.
To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.