Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Ability to Start Over

“Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist, but the ability to start over.”  -F. Scott Fitzgerald

For most of my waking hours yesterday, I stared at a computer screen.  I finally headed for bed and started reading.  As I read, I felt restless.  Restless to go back to the computer screen I had already looked at for too many hours.  Restless to write again.  About?  I didn’t even know.  This is the result.

I spent the day writing a new blog post and editing several pieces to submit for a competition.  The blog was one of those posts that didn’t come easily, that took a long time to write, and that, I’m fairly certain, was not a favorite for readers.  It wasn’t one of my favorites, either.  However, because I wanted to post something new, I kept plugging away on it until I decided I was finished. 

Writing it was like having a bad workout.  I pushed through what didn’t feel easy or good, only because I knew I’d be glad to have done it after I finished.  Like a bad workout, in particular a bad long run, it took much longer than I thought it would.  Like I do after a bad long run, I tried to let my frustration go, so that it wouldn’t color my faith in myself or my abilities.  Such experiences make me more fully appreciate the good workouts and the days when words flow freely. 

On my mind as I returned to my computer last night was a comment made in response to “Failures in Reaching Out, in Community.”  It was this: “I am trying (and failing miserably) to be open to others.”  I can’t imagine that it was an easy admission to make.  Who likes admitting failure?  It is bold to make such a statement and I am grateful for the courageous honesty of the woman who made it.  My reply, one that I believe with all my heart, was that the most important thing was the attempt to be open.  Someone else commented later with a Thomas Merton quote:  “But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.”  This comes from one of my favorite prayers by Merton, one I had hanging by my desk at school and that I used to read to students sometimes as we began class.  I’ll include the whole prayer at the end of this post, just in case you don’t know it.   

I believe Merton’s statement is true.  God knows that we are not perfect, not one of us.  Guess what?  People who came before us weren’t either, despite the incomplete tales we may hear of heroic deeds.  I think of Biblical figures, people whose names may fill us with awe for the deeds they did.  And yet, they were regular human beings.  They were imperfect, flawed people, many of whom shrank when God asked them to do something or screwed up in colossal ways when they did act.  Ever had either of those experiences?  I know I have.

Going back to the Bible, just think of Peter.  Talk about a guy who messed up, screwing over his best friend in his greatest hour of need.  And yet the Basilica in Rome is named after him.  An imperfect, flawed being who went on to do great things.  He owned up.  He pushed forward, beyond his own flaws and his own mistakes.  He started over.    

Perhaps the key to starting over is patience.  We need to be patient with ourselves.  We need to allow ourselves to fail, maybe more than once, maybe many times, and recognize that the best stuff, the really important things, take time and effort to get close to perfection.  We may not have the right words or do the right thing all the time, but if we’re trying, we’re trying.  We could have just not tried in the first place, with no chance at either success or failure.  How sad would that life be?
Some skills come easier than others.  Some creations do, too.  Our attempts, however unsuccessful, carry us a little closer to achievement, if we keep moving.  We may have to stop temporarily and regroup.  We may have to scrap what we’ve begun and start all over again. (I’ll bet the artists among you know about this.)  But that is a natural part of life.  The fact that creation gets a yearly go at creating, dying, and starting over again should be a reminder for us to allow the same for ourselves.  It’s all a process, a beautiful cycle that gives us second, third, many chances to start over. 

I had an agonizing day trying to write yesterday.  Today feels better.  I don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  Maybe it’ll be like a winter day (though certainly not in temperature!) of rest.  And then it’ll be time to sit down again and start over, with the faith that my desire to please God does in fact please God, and with the hope, though not the guarantee, that my attempt to create something meaningful will, in fact, result in something meaningful.   

“MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

Thomas Merton