Mistakes can be costly in many ways. They can cost money, time, energy, confidence, and comfort. Failing to own up to them can cost even more. Respect and trust are two of the most costly aspects of denying—or failing to admit—mistakes. Everyone makes them. Probably every day. But sometimes we can’t bring ourselves to admit them; to do so, we seem to think, would weaken us in the eyes of others. In fact, the effect of admitting mistakes has the opposite effect. That admission, whether labeled courageous or not, tends to elevate our standing among people who matter. The admission pairs well with honesty; the two are intertwined like cables. There can be horrific consequences of mistakes, of course. When an architect or builder makes mistakes that lead to a building’s collapse, neither an admission nor a heartfelt apology is adequate. Like everything else in life, mistakes—and the forgiveness afforded their makers—fall somewhere along a scale from quite minor to monumental. As we plod along in our lives, we try to avoid making mistakes, but inevitably we make them. Most of them can be corrected, but some of them can’t. Even the ones that cannot be corrected—at least most of them—can be forgiven. The choice to forgive is not up to the person who made the mistake, though. Sometimes, it is not even up to the one(s) harmed by the mistake. Societies choose whether to forgive mistakes that may or may not harm society as a whole. The intertwined subject of mistakes and forgiveness could be the fodder for long and illuminating philosophical conversations. But those conversations require both the right circumstances and the right people. Both elements sometimes are too briefly available, though. So, the conversations remain unspoken until everything is in place. That is true of almost everything, though, not just philosophical conversations. Our entire experience of existence relies entirely on pieces of an incredibly elaborate puzzle coming together in just the right way at just the right time, which is an enormously unlikely occurrence. Viewed from that perspective, virtually everything we experience or witness or learn about is a miracle of one kind or another. Maybe a minor miracle. Maybe a miracle of immeasurable proportions. Life itself, and the absence of life, is an unlikely reality. Maybe they both are mistakes. Life is a mistake and death represents forgiveness. Or vice versa: death is a mistake and life represents forgiveness. Long philosophical discussions can be both illuminating and ultimately pointless. Except for the illumination.
I am not sure whether it was the pain in my knee or the troubling dream that woke me the second time. Maybe both. The knee has been giving me trouble for weeks. Maybe months. I understand the genesis of the dream, though it was a bit morbid. I was arguing with an attorney about modifying my will to leave my white sofas to a couple of friends who have made it known that they want them if ever I decide to sell them. “You don’t include pieces of furniture in your will,” the attorney snarled. I don’t recall exactly how I responded to her, but it was something along the lines of “It’s not your effing will, but I’m your effing client, so you’ll modify the effing will exactly as I prescribe!” The dream involved other items I wanted to include in my will, but I don’t remember what. I needed to modify the document right away because I expected to die soon. I wasn’t panicked in the least by that fact; I just felt a sense of urgency to get it done while I could. Weird and troubling. I can see how the dream could shake me awake. The knee has done it before. And at some time during the night last night, I remember my bedmate asking what was wrong; I must have been moaning in response to the pain in my knee. What a way to start the day: very early and with my mind on modifying my will.
You have to make mistakes to find out who you aren’t. You take the action, and the insight follows: You don’t think your way into becoming yourself.
~ Anne Lamott
After I woke, but before I got out of bed, my head flooded with thoughts about necessary repairs and modifications to the new house. I think I must have reflected on every hinge that needs to be replaced and every door that needs to be adjusted and every inch of paint that needs to be carefully applied at the juncture between the wall and the ceiling and every countertop that needs upgrading and every other imperfection that will require money to correct. By the time I swung my legs over the side of the bed, I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of what’s needed. As I think about it now, the size and scope of what’s needed is not really overwhelming, but it is far beyond what I expected when buying a house that was ostensibly “move-in ready.” I thought, initially, all it would require would be paint and a willingness to overlook its copious imperfections. I suppose that willingness has turned to dust; I need to refresh it somehow.
The other day, I wrote about how I found this image fascinating. This morning, as I contemplate the image, I realize how the actual piece of art must appear very different, depending on one’s perspective. Viewing it from above, it looks like the image I see in the photograph. But if I bend down close, it must appear less symmetrical. And if I put my head down on the sand next to it, the components in my line of sight must appear as a rather disorderly bunch of rocks. Its beauty emerges only with a degree of distance from the elements of the art. My late wife and I once bought a mug—it may still be around here, hanging on a mug rack—with an image that, close-up, looks like a bunch of pixelated abstract dots. But if you hold the mug a distance from your eyes, you see an image that appears to be a profile of Abraham Lincoln. The image on the mug is a copy of Salvador Dalí’s lithograph, Lincoln in Dalivision, which was created on the basis of Dalí’s painting, Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea which at a distance of 20 meters is transformed into the portrait of Abraham Lincoln (Homage to Rothko). Interesting stuff. Evidence that distance and perspective play vital roles in how we see the world around us.
Mistakes are always forgivable if one has the courage to admit them.
~ Bruce Lee ~