Thursday, October 22, 2009



By Karla M. Steffens-Moran

It’s a snow day, and my youngest son plops down into the chair opposite me in the living room and says: “I’m bored.” I look down at my coffee and then over to him and say: “Go get a game. I’ll play whatever you want.” He stands, rounds the corner to head up the stairs and returns a few short moments later with the game board for Candy Land: “I want to play this one, but I can’t find the cards anywhere.” I tell him where I think he might find them, but he insists that he’s already looked there; he’s already tried and failed. I’m about to tell him to try again, when the phone rings. A few moments later, following an invitation from a friend, he’s abandoned the notion of Candy Land and trying--in this case--to locate its missing pieces. I however have not given up. I will find the game pieces. I will triumph or die trying.

“Try again; fail better,” is a favorite Samuel Beckett quote of mine. I’m thinking, it sums up pretty much what I aspire to: to not quit. Certainly, I have those days, those nights during which time I question whether or not I should even bother--doesn’t matter what it is--because I have failed, my demons have gotten the better of me--again--and I’m back to the same old place. I know that I’m not alone; we all have that place. For some of us it’s standing on the scale, staring down at the number that we swore we’d never be at again, for others it’s staring at the empty wine glass that we promised ourselves we’d never pour again, let alone drink. For some, it’s lighting that cigarette or yelling at our kids or our spouse. For others it’s working too much or too little, getting into another one of those relationships we know is unhealthy for body or spirit--or leaving when we realize too late that we should have stayed, or any moment in which we allow our fear to dominate over our hope. It’s making the choice to do something that we know is less than healthy--not ever really knowing or acknowledging why--followed by the regret of having failed.

“Try again; fail better.” I speak this mantra as my first hopeful step back to making my life make sense again. It’s getting back up on the proverbial horse, the wagon, the right track, back home and saying, this time will be different. This time I won’t fail. This time it will work: the job, the relationship, the diet, the budget, the workout, the plan. This time there will be triumph.

And in that moment, there is in fact a kind of triumph--of will, of spirit, of hope. This is the moment that French philosopher Albert Camus described in his essay: The Myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus has been punished by the greek gods for doing some naughty thing or another and is forced to spend eternity pushing a large boulder up a hill only to watch it roll back down into the valley as soon as he’s managed to nearly reach the summit. Camus suggests that the moment of Sisyphus’ heroism is not in his ascent, nor in his task of pushing the boulder, but rather in the moment just after the boulder has rolled back down to rest in the valley and just before his descent back down to retrieve the boulder-- again. It’s the look in his eye prior to that first step: Yes, I can. I will.

It’s in the summoning up of the courage to try again--to do the right thing for ourselves, for others, for the planet. And what better time to contemplate this journey of spirit--the holidays, a few breaths short of that great goal setting day of New Year’s. Certainly, the holidays are a time of great celebration but they are as well filled with more than a few moments of despair, of degeneration of will, of depressed spirit--despite the frivolity. There are gifts and gatherings and good times, but for those who are suffering illness, sadness or recent loss--whether it be of friends, relatives, employment or health, the season can prove a genuine challenge to simply finding the energy, the “wherewithall” to put one foot in front of the other. Back up the hill we go, one arduous step at a time.

“Try again; fail better.” It’s the game of Candy Land as metaphor. We begin with great hope on our journey to King Kandy’s Candy Castle, moving our colorful game pieces past the Gingerbread Plum Trees and sneaking past Lord Licorice who lies in wait, avoiding Plumpy, to make our way through the Peppermint Forest and beyond Gumdrop Mountains, only to be Lost in Lollipop Woods or Stuck in Gooey Gumdrops or Molasses Swamp. We learn before we can read about failure as a part of the game. We learn early on that while the point is to play the game--not simply win or lose, that no matter the outcome, there’s both fun and loss to be had in the drama and suspense of it all.

There will be success. And there will be failure. This holiday season, you may very well gain a pound or six. You may fall off the wagon. You may say yes when you should say no. You may purchase something beyond your means. You may scream at the children or the spouse or the parent. You may gamble on a sure bet that is anything but certain success. You will fail. And then there will be the choice. Wallow in the failure for a moment, but then embrace it and then move on, one foot in front of the other--back up the mountain, back down to the boulder, back to the drawing board, the diet, the healthy choice. Because there’s also something gained in not letting the failure dominate the spirit.

The challenges are many but trust this: the yellow or blue or red Candy Land card that you must draw in order to move forward is in the deck. It may be the next card in the stack or it may be several away, but it is there, waiting for you to draw it. So, this New Year’s, whether you love or loathe the resolutions, be undaunted. Despite the odds, set those goals. Again. Lose the weight gained. Find the job. Get out of an unhealthy--or or into a healthy--relationship. Stick to your budget. Make that plan. Follow that dream. Queen Frostine, Gramma Nut, Princess Lolly, Albert Camus and even Samuel Beckett are all rooting for you--for each of us. “Try again; fail better.” The operative word being: better.

My goal: to find those missing cards before my son Luke gets back home from sledding. Try--again--I hear them calling to me: Aspire. The Candy Castle awaits.

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