The Value of Failure

I've been reading a novel I picked up at the library recently. I find such joy in reading books and it feels like a special treat when one surprises you with a "truth nugget" right in the middle of an otherwise normal narrative. One of the characters is as nostalgic as I am. As she's processing her divorce, she comes to this conclusion. "It's funny what comes to mind when the worst possible thing happens. After Jim left, I thought my life was over. I had tried so hard, and Jim had stopped loving me anyway. But failing isn't proof that nothing matters or that we were fools to care. We fail even though things matter very much; it's the possibility of failure that makes them matter even more."*
Grief causes us to go back to what we lost and to reassess its value. Sometimes we overvalue what is was, living in the "glory days" and remembering everything from that time through rose-colored glasses. Other times, usually when we don't want to feel the pain of loss, we try to convince ourselves that what we had before was not as good as it really was. It allows us to squash the grief we feel so we can limp forward in search of something better.
I love what this character is saying. When something fails (loss is all failure of some kind: death is failure to live; divorce is failure to work things out, etc.) that does not diminish its value. In fact, we put more value in things that have the potential to fail. Relationships fail. And rather than saying that, in order to grieve that failure, we must carry it forever (rose-colored glasses) or devalue our experience (denial of pain) of it, she's saying that the very act of failure gives evidence of its meaning. 
This idea blows my mind. I often find myself so disappointed when something fails. As an achiever and a perfectionist, I try so hard to make my life (and the lives of those I care about, see: caretaking) work. And when things don't, it's so easy to want to reduce the value of that experience. The pain of loss is so great, and often I take on the responsibility for that failure regardless of the situation. So on top of grief, I add on a heaping measure of shame. It's so much easier to say that whatever failed was not worth the effort it required to continue. 
She goes on to say, "At fifty-three years old, I almost lost what I had somehow known from the time I was a small girl. I almost lost the knowledge that made my life work...the faith that made three decades of marriage possible and everything good that happened in those years: the family we had, the friends we made, the laughs we shared, the tears, the everything of it. At fifty-three, I almost forgot what Avis Briggs always knew. It all matters." 
She's saying that just because her marriage didn't last forever (and believe me, she's grieving that in a big way) does not mean that their thirty years together were a waste. Just because she's crying now, her years of laughter still happened and still matter. I find this idea so beautiful, so comforting and so, so true to my life. I want my experiences, both painful and beautiful, to have meaning. 
I have no control over how my life will go. I know everyone reading that last line will have a gut check reaction to that truth because we so desperately want that to not be true. We want our good behavior to control the future, that bad things won't happen to us if we behave ourselves, that we will not experience failure in the places that are the most vulnerable in our hearts if we just keep trying. We want to box in our world, our God, our choices, whatever it takes to know that everything will be okay. But the joy of this narrative, both in the novel I'm reading and in the life I'm living is that experiencing pain does not erase the experience of joy. 
As a black and white thinker, I often paint things with a broad brush. If the teen girl gets pregnant, then she shouldn't have had sex with that boy. No matter that she loved him, no matter that she wanted to, no matter that she learned something. She shouldn't have done it and now she's reaping the consequences of her choices. But this is life. The joy of sex and the fear of parenting. The safety of a thirty year marriage and the shock of divorce. The fun of loving your babies and the grief of them moving on. On and on it goes. We want to live in a way that we think we can foresee the consequences and learn to avoid them. Or that the foreseeable ones shouldn't hurt as much as they do. Of course, there are obvious high-risk choices and some of us are more prone to them than others. But there is no way to have complete foresight, no true security in life. 
While there is a lot of fear in acknowledging this, in some ways it comes as a relief to me. For one, it's true in what I've seen and experienced and when I stop denying my heart, I find peace. Two, it takes me off my high horse. It's a lot easier to judge people when you think you've got this life thing all sorted out. Three, it creates community. The lack of security we have in this life fosters dependence on each other in a way that is beautiful, sacred and ironically, security-giving. When we know we have hands to catch us, falling is not as devastating. Four, it takes the pressure off needing to figure everything out, being the one who always needs to be the giver. It levels the playing field, this acknowledging of our collective human experience. We have so much more in common with each other than the areas in which we differ. Five, if we know failure is part of life and therefore, inevitable, does that not make the victories more sweet? When things work out, isn't it almost an unexpected surprise? When we pick up a random novel off a shelf and we find hidden gems of truth, this is the sweetness of life. It's pure, unexpected and resonates with the truth in my heart. 
* For anyone who's interested, the novel is called We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride.