On Failure

first Amps photo together - taken on Polaroid  2001

It is inevitable that we all experience failure.

Let me start again. Because I cannot write of failure without first writing of love.

Love starts easily enough. I mean falling in love. All the giddy giggles, the discovery of each other, the never-apartness, and the desire to show the other how much they are loved or as Freddie Mercury croons sleazily (or sexily to some), to be into the other. It feels effortless. Because there is that sense that you are fully yourself, yet have seemingly stepped into the other person - that feeling of one-ness makes everything effortless. One of J’s advice to friends who go to him about their love woes is this: if you are just starting to get to know someone romantically and it ain’t  “easy”, don’t do it. 

Falling in love should be easy and fun and filled with all pleasures imaginable because a lifetime of love will repeat that experience. Aren’t we all, in our relationships, somewhat frozen in time for our partners? Because we can be that truest, most natural self, we can therefore be the most immutable part of who we are to our partner. J’s nickname in my phone is the same one as when we first met. In our years together, I always told him that meeting him every day after work was my happiest part of the day because it was like being out on a date with him - to which he would be secretly pleased but reply “xiao!” (i.e. mad!). With him, I always feel like his girl - and he is always that sun-burnt boy to me. 

Yet there’s enough marriage counseling going around that says that a marriage/relationship is hard work. If it is easy and draws on that same ease of being your truest self to the other, why do marriages fail and why does staying in a loving relationship feel like damn hard work?  

Because, sin. 

Every exchange, every interaction, it is either one of love and affirmation of the other person, or un-love. Since it is a daily effort and necessary in every (in)action, word or silence, you can also be assured that we will constantly fail at being loving. J was such a great partner because he worked at being one. And I like to think his effort was reciprocated, rewarded, so that the work feels like a dance, a playful game... it feels easy. Yet whether we recognise it or not, we will often fail our family, friends and colleagues, or those dearest to us. 

Take J’s suicide. However much I want to avoid thinking of it that way, it is in part my failure as his closest dearest human being. I recognise it. I am not beating myself up for it unfairly. But I have to accept it. How could I not have been there for him that morning? How could I have just gone to work? Or did his anxieties build up over the years because I had failed to listen, truly listen? Was it all not avoidable if I did not fail at being his beloved and lover? And I have to accept that J failed me. He would say the one thing he looked forward to was growing old with me. He has left me here. So I accept that he failed me. I forgive, the same way I hope he forgave me for not putting him first that morning.

We are used to speaking of failure as an opposite of success. In that regard we speak of a failure of task or expectation, a failure in the goals, targets we or society have set. And hence self-help articles talk instead of resilience and loving yourself or whatever the trendy affirmative phrase may be. So that we deal with failure, deal failure away.

Friends, I had to start by writing about love for this reason: when we fail in love and we fail another human being, we are forced to confront a failure whose very nature cannot be self-helped away, but sits at the heart of our imperfect selves as humans. Sin reveals us in our relationships with others when we speak or act out of insecurity, selfish desire, envy, greed, anger, fear, anxiety, indifference. Even when we do not intend to. 

I also had to start by writing about love because we will always fail in love. Even in this the most “in love” condition (because what else can a girl ask for than someone like J?), in the comfort and security of this good relationship, I have failed J, as he has failed me. Even if he was alive, there would be occasions when I will fail to perfectly love him. 

My Christian faith reminds me why it is therefore so important that we forgive. Because we have been forgiven, and we have a God who shows and gives us a perfect love. And so we continue to try, to give our best efforts still to love, even if we should fail at times. We then forgive. Pick ourselves up. Pick others up. In love. Allow ourselves the joys of love. We go on. Until the day we are allowed to rest - a perfect rest.


Anonymous said…
Failing the ones we love is one of the hardest things to bear. If we love them, why do we fail them? We can say it's because we're human. You use the unfashionable word 'sin'. I agree. Sin is enacted whenever our actions pay too much attention to ourselves, or are based on what we presume of others. We need to watch ourselves before we say or do anything, whether this is with old friends, lovers and partners of many years, parents. We need to hold ourselves accountable. I say this because I too feel that I failed as James' friend. What is there to do now, though? He is gone. The only thing is to carry on, to try and not fail the same way with others. I look back and see that the failure can be traced to not centring myself enough on God. When God is at the centre of our relationships, then the self and its misguided notions, its finite understanding, all these aren't allowed to dictate how we behave. Let God take charge, whose way is love.
Larry said…
Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
ampulets said…
Thanks ww and Larry.
Ww - yah having to constantly keep God at the centre of our lives, so not easy!
quiet notes said…
Today I thought about your post again. I've been somewhat troubled by the last words in the post: 'a perfect rest'. I think it's because I am aware of your fatigue. Physical, mental, emotional. You don't show it most of the time. You can and you must rest before God puts His full stop on your life. You must rest in your faith. Sometimes this means you have to pull away from The World. If you hear the call of your faith to rest, then go to it immediately. You can count on your faith to take the best possible care of you! What I am trying to say is that God provides many many perfect rests for us throughout our lives. We have to look out for his promptings and also to our body's hints and clues. The brain is often held captive by The World's demands and needs. We are more than our brains.
Anonymous said…
Thank you so much for sharing this piece. It is so eloquently written and vulnerable in a way that gives us hope in a fallen world.

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