This Freedom to Fail

I like to pride myself on being a conscientious person, especially when it comes to handling objects and spacial awareness. I could tell you precisely where any item is in the apartment, and I notice when a pan is placed back on the “wrong” shelf. I try to treat things with care. I know accidents happen, but I tend to get upset with myself when I break something. Which seemed to happen a lot lately.

In the span of three months, I shattered a wine glass, I chipped a gifted spoon rest, and just on Monday I knocked a ceramic soap dispenser to the floor. Who knew liquid hand soap, of all things, could be such a pain to clean?

But it’s not just broken objects; I’ve had a few recent instances of plans canceled, expectations unmet, and programs fallen through. There have been successes, too, but they always seem outweighed by what went wrong.

Such is the effect of perfectionism: That which breaks through the ego grabs the attention far more than that which shores it up.

Coincidentally (consequentially?) a poem by Leah Goldberg, as performed by Beit T’filah Israeli, has been playing on repeat in my head these past few days. The words and melody follow below:

למדני אלוהי / לאה גולדברג

לַמְּדֵנִי, אֱלֹהַי, בָּרֵך וְהִתְפַּלֵּל
,עַל סוֹד עָלֶה קָמֵל, עַל נֹגַהּ פְּרִי בָּשֵׁל
,עַל הַחֵרוּת הַזֹּאת: לִרְאוֹת, לָחוּשׁ, לִנְשֹׁם
.לָדַעַת, לְיַחֵל, לְהִכָּשֵׁל

לַמֵּד אֶת שִׂפְתוֹתַי בְּרָכָה וְשִׁיר הַלֵּל
,בְּהִתְחַדֵּשׁ זְמַנְּךָ עִם בֹּקֶר וְעִם לֵיל
.לְבַל יִהְיֶה יוֹמִי הַיּוֹם כִּתְמוֹל שִׁלְשׁוֹם
.לְבַל יִהְיֶה עָלַי יוֹמִי הֶרְגֵּל

Lamdeini Elohai / Leah Goldberg
(my own translation)

Teach me, O God, blessing, prayer
For the mystery of a leaf wilted, for the radiance of fruit ripened,
For this freedom: to see, to feel, to breathe,
To know, to hope, to fail.

Teach my lips a blessing and a song of praise,
By renewing Your time with morning and with night,
So my day today not be as days gone by.
So my day not become routine.

It’s this bit that speaks most to me this week: “Teach me, O God, blessing, prayer…for this freedom…to fail.” It reminds me of the last mishnah of Berakhot: “One is obligated to bless over the bad just as one blesses over the good.” Easier said than done.

And there’s an important distinction: Goldberg doesn’t seek a blessing for failure itself, but a blessing for the freedom to fail. Her poem calls us to notice to our lot when we have the opportunity to mess up safely.

So even though my ego feels bruised, I’m also grateful for being in a position where I can fail, learn, and try again, without fear of serious reprisal. Perhaps that is what keeps the days from running routinely one into the next.

I think also of the wonderful advice we used to give one another at camp when things went awry: Did anyone get hurt? No? So it was a good day.

Perspective matters. No one got hurt, even from the shattered wine glass. It was a good day.

And time will renew again tomorrow.

One comment

  1. A poignant, timely reminder from a wise soul. Thank you. Failure can be a great teacher, sometimes even more than success. I wonder if failure is a pre-requisite for resiliency and growth. I am grateful for your gift of honest reflection.

    Liked by 1 person

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