A few minutes into his jaw dropping set at the Monterey Pop, Jimi Hendrix playfully eases into a cover of the greatest song ever recorded. The opening notes of “Like a Rolling Stone” are easily identifiable, and Hendrix’s’ conversational style of singing is perfect in this place. But just as we are settling in for the ride we hear Hendrix hesitate and then tell the audience, “Yes, I know I missed a verse, don’t worry.”
The master finishes the song, and then a half an hour later his time on stage climaxes when he lights his guitar on fire before smashing it to pieces in one of the most horrifying and beautiful moments my eyes have ever seen.
But what I always think about when I hear parts of that set is how does he so easily put aside the forgetting of an entire verse of one of the more well-known songs of any time? After making a name in Europe, that show was his coming out party in America and he dropped a verse from a song he had performed many times before. He failed, in front of everyone, yet it is hailed as one of the most memorable performances in rock history. How can that be?
Despite my relative ease at accomplishing it, failure is something I have never been comfortable with. At times the only success I have had was failure and despite failure becoming a frequent guest of mine I was never at ease with it as a dinner guest.
Albert Einstein said, “Anyone that has never made a mistake has never tried anything new,” and at no point am I going to argue with the genius.
Last week I had planned to take a couple of classes at our local health center. After leaving the first, a meditation class, I wandered into the next one that was just about to begin. Seconds after walking into the gym my body tensed up and a pit formed in my stomach. I saw big dudes exposing their muscles through shirts void of sleeves and weird looking equipment littering the floor of the gymnasium. I was out of there faster than I walked in. I went to my comfortable space on the elliptical machine and lasted all of five minutes before giving up there too. I was clearly rattled and it messed me up for most of the day.
You would think that after all I have been through and accomplished in the last 13 months the sight of Hans and Franz stretching amid some archaic exercise toys would be nothing but a chicken wing on a string to me. I chalked it up to another failure. But was it? Are failures that big of a deal that I need to allow it to negatively affect the rest of my day?
Excuses flew around me, perhaps the meditation class went deeper than I had thought and I was feeling especially open and exposed when I walked into the gym or maybe the medicine I am on has depression and mood swings on its list of side effects?
There was a time when I never tried anything new and I was dangerously close to entering into a life where complacency was so natural that it was going to kill me. It almost did. During those years I felt no real emotions, no monumental loss or happiness despite plenty of things to be happy and sad about. It was just years and years of going through the motions.
In times of dying we all develop ways to cope and engage in practices that may not improve the situation we find ourselves in. But we get through the night and tell ourselves tomorrow will be different. But they never are, they certainly can be, but they never get there unless you flip the coin and get honest with yourself and comfortable with failure.
During one of the few times I played a round of golf I was riding in the cart with a friend of mine who we will call Cos because well, that is what we all called him. After firing shots in every direction under the sun, wandering around like Lewis and Clark looking for lost golf balls, and on more than one occasion cursing the heavens for inventing a sport so infuriating, I looked at Cos and asked him why he did it. Why if this game was so full of failure and disappointment did he play it all the time?
“Well Kev, yes, most of the time the ball goes nowhere near where I was hoping it would go, but every once and awhile I hit it perfect. I swing, and it goes, it’s in the sky and it drops exactly where I wanted it to drop. And that’s awesome, and that’s why I come back and play the next time. For moments like that.”
Cos always seemed much more comfortable in his skin than I ever felt in my own and I always envied that about him. I think about the point he made as I recover and move forward with a life completely unlike the one that preceded the cracking open of my sternum.
To be comfortable with failure is as important as being humble when we succeed, even more so as we stumble far more often than we stand tall. This week I am attempting some new things and while failure is a distinct possibility the prospect of it is less ominous than it has ever been.
A writing workshop is on my schedule, as will be continuing education courses in plant-based nutrition and cooking. The chances of having to share my thoughts and my writing in a group setting excites me and gaining a better understanding of how plants provide the nutrition we need to excel is something that I have been building towards for months.
Old habits may creep in. At times I will hesitate and feel uncomfortable, but not only do I possess the tools to deal with those moments, now I relish these moments and treat them as learning experiences and a reminder that we are all works in progress, and that true happiness, and true sadness can be found in the work. That is what is most important to me now. The work, a word with a new meaning and a different journey than my dreams could have previously conjured.
“Mistakes are portals of discovery,” said another genius. As I embark on more learning and more discoveries in my post bypass surgery self, the days become more precious, and it’s the moments that mean everything.