Failure and Flying birdsThis is not my favorite poem, it’s not a philosophy that inspires me, or fills me with gratitude.  (I’m more a Mary Oliver kinda gal :-))  And still, this spare, clear poem by Jack Gilbert, Failing and Flying, with its directness and lack of nostalgia, provocative and pertinent, offers an invitation to see the world and our challenges in a new way.  First the poem.  My musings follow.
 Failing and Flying

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights
that anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe that Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.

The phrase “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly” is a case in point.  I smile at the contrast to that urgent exhortation I heard so often heard growing up:  do it well, or don’t do it at all.  A variation on this theme, “don’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough” has opened the door to a great deal of enjoyment — of my way less than perfect singing, or piano playing, or juggling (my newest endeavor!), and much more.
Failing and Flying jugglingFailing and Flying? Is it a failure that I have taken months to add the third ball to my juggling, and still can only catch three balls now and them?  I gave my grandson juggling balls last fall, and he’s been cascading three objects since shortly thereafter!
I am enjoying the practicing, the slow improvement, the long arc of effort and attention that learning to juggle has added to my life.  I’ll let y0u know when I can keep the three balls in the air for a while!  I think the time will come.  Even if it doesn’t, it is definitely not a failure.
Another example: the separation and divorce from my first husband, and now dear friend.  We have continued to enrich each other’s lives in many and varied ways since our parting over twenty years ago.  The marriage was not perfect (sometimes not even good!), but we parented two wonderful children, now have new partners, who suit us very well at this stage in our lives, and have many wonderful memories to treasure and recall — just today an email evoked fond times and travels together.  I am grateful for these experiences, as I am also grateful that our time together came to an end when it did.  Failure?  I think not!
What are areas in which you have come to the “end of a triumph” in your life, your work, your relationships… and how have these passings affected, enriched, changed, deepened, opened you?
Jill Schroder is the author of BECOMING: Journeying Toward Authenticity.  BECOMING is an invitation for self-reflection, and to mine our memorable moments for insights, meaning, and growth.  Check the website for a sample chapter, or see the reviews to get a flavor for the volume.  Follow me on Twitter, let’s be friends on Facebook :-)


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