I believe in mistakes. I believe in mistakes because I believe in learning for one’s self. That stumbling around which takes us from innocence to maturity, from naiveté to wisdom. I believe in the discovery and possibility that comes from a mistake: the lasting benefit that is born from immediate consequence.
When I was nearly three I found myself atop the living room coffee table. The smooth stained wood was a grand adventure. I hoisted myself up with my scrawny arms and my legs dangled from the edge. My mother saw my antics and cautioned, “If you’re not careful you’ll hurt yourself.” Of course this message sunk in quick when I slipped and caught my chin on the edge of the table. I learned. But I didn’t learn not to climb. I learned that I needed to become a better climber or that I needed to find a safer place to climb. I learned plenty of ways to avoid a bloody chin without suspending my days as an adventurer. So while a blunder can caution against something you’ve done, it can just as easily offer a solution for the next time around. The best part of all this, though, is that you don’t necessarily have to make a mistake to learn from one. You can learn from others’ mistakes. Life’s too short to do everything wrong so sometimes you have to watch somebody else mess up and get it right the first time for yourself.
I believe in mistakes because I believe in forgiveness. If there ever were a purer form of love I guarantee that forgiveness would still laugh at it and swallow it whole. To apologize is difficult enough but to forgive? Sometimes it can take a lifetime, sometimes longer, sometimes a few seconds, or maybe never.
When I was somewhere in the ballpark of ten years old I had lunch with my parents and my great aunt and uncle. My great aunt and uncle didn’t seem so great to me at the time. They were old, wrinkly, and almost frightening to my younger self. I prayed that lunch would end quickly but the potatoes on my tray moved at a faster pace than my relatives that shuffled through the buffet line. I kept quiet most of the meal and after enough suffering we left the restaurant. As we walked to the car to say goodbye my uncle bent down and pulled out his wallet. In his shaking hand he held out a crisp one-dollar bill. He told me to “save it” and that saving was important because “you never quite know when a rainy day will come.” The next I heard of my great uncle, years later, he had passed away. I don’t remember what I spent that dollar on but I’ll always wish I hadn’t. I’m sure if he were still around he would laugh it off but I wouldn’t mind being reassured.
I’ve been on either side of apologies and the gravity of forgiveness never ceases. Whether it’s a simple misunderstanding or lengthy fight, forgiving has the potential to be powerfully moving. The hardest to forgive are the mistakes that broke your heart but if you can do that then you can do anything. To acknowledge what someone has done wrong and accept them anyway is absurd. And that’s why it is so incredible.
Whatever you do, don’t underestimate what you’re capable of teaching yourself, or for that matter, teaching someone else. That would be a mistake.
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