This ‘18-‘19 series is my way of celebrating some of my deepest values leading up to my 50th birthday next spring. The fall series features four “concessions” on life’s downers; the winter/spring feature “confessions” that drive who I am.
If the aging process and the brevity of life weren’t enough for us to handle on this tired, fallen Earth, our daily shortcomings are even more disconcerting—however long we may live. In any relationship, whether parent-child, teacher-student, siblings, friends, colleagues, or marrieds, one would be wise to heed the conversation from the sword duel in The Princess Bride (1987) when Westley refused to reveal his secret identity.
Inigo Montoya: “Who are you?”
Westley (as the Dread Pirate Roberts): “No one of consequence.”
Montoya: “I must know.”
Roberts: “Get used to disappointment.”
Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, put it this way in a his comic book series from the ’80’s:
“If you keep your expectations tiny, you’ll go through life without being so whiny.”
Cultural humor aside, it is a stark reality that people disappoint us. If we’re being honest with ourselves, we’re let down every day, whether by careless drivers, ungrateful recipients of service or gifts, or random acts of unkindness.
While I acknowledge that many personalities are “often wrong, never in doubt,” I am definitely not one. To a fault, I assume most mistakes that occur around me are somehow linked to my own failures. In other words, I am much more predisposed to focus on how I disappoint others (and disappoint myself) rather than how others disappoint me. I’m not trying to sound magnanimous; I genuinely struggle with perfection to the point that it seems no one in my life can let me down as much as I let myself down. “Whom will I fail today?” is a personal adage against which I struggle.
A pertinent example is that it wasn’t until after JJ20’s closing night that I realized that my best efforts fell short in what had been my most challenging and fulfilling production to date: I made major errors in the show order in our special super-sized written program. Whereas I avoid using the word “pride” in any context related to my life and work, I confess that my reaction exposed pride regarding written communication, and it was debilitating and humbling to realize I had made so many errors (and printed 1,200 copies). I conceded at the time that it was better than in 1997 when I actually forgot to include one of our 53 Wise Guys Jugglers’ names on the T-shirt, but still, my feeling this past May was that even my very best efforts still come with self-disappointment; how much more do my daily actions often disappoint others, whether or not I know it? “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV)
You may ask, “What’s the good news, Sunshine?” You’ll have to wait for my January column for that. For now, suffice it to say that whether due to my sensitive nature, my upbringing with stereotypical “Catholic guilt,” my 26.5 years working with youth, my admitted perfectionism, or all of the above, I am one who empathizes greatly with human shortcomings of all kinds. I suppose that my preemptive tendency to blame myself cuts short any hurt I may have when others directly blame me.
With all of my imperfections, along with the self-evident and hidden imperfections of everyone all around me, my only hope is a popular five-letter word that I’ll feature in January: grace. But next month, my final downer column will focus on an unpopular three-letter word that gets to the root of all of our problems: sin.
Have a very blessed Thanksgiving month, but don’t relegate the holy-day to one meal or even one month or season each calendar year. Acknowledge with your hearts if not also with your words that people disappoint other people, including self-disappointment (whether or not you’re in doubt :-). But part of a healthy community and a healthy faith is getting to the root of the problem, repenting, and seeking restoration while striving to overcome our very real human shortcomings. Give thanks for second chances, both toward others and toward oneself.