Icarus failed because he took his trusty wings too close to the sun. He died in a triumphant rebuke of what he had been taught. He crashed back down to earth so that we could all be reminded that no matter our own wants or skills, the sun will always burn too hot. But what if Icarus had instead been too fearful to fly? His father’s warning came of both the sun and sea, each able to compromise his wings. So had he stayed terrified of the sun, his fear could have drowned him nonetheless. And what if he had never taken flight, kept his wings in the closet for the perfect cloudy day? He would have worked and waited only to find a mess of sticky wax, mold, dust, and feathers – as useless as a rock for his need to escape. His story is taught to avoid hubris, that we cannot simply want something so much as to overpower the laws of nature. But his story has other options, as all our stories do.
The harsh reality is settling into my bones – just like the frigid March air, the oddity of a snow storm after so little snow in the month I once associated with the coming of Spring. How often my meditation ends with the two truths I do not know how to reconcile: the President is a monster and the Earth is melting. In the face of those two dire failures I do not know how to assess my own failure. In the uncertainty of our mortality, as a society, as a species, as a speck in the universe, an attempt at something more than mere survival feels vain. How dare I think that I am allowed to reach beyond the sidewalks. No my feet must remain solidly on the ground, skipping over the cracks that in childhood we sang out broke our mothers’ back. I have failed and at least that is a new skill to have gained.
An older post examined how I had been a mediocre photographer and that I feared my writing could never amount to much more. The piece I feared to examine was the choice I had made to not pursue any greatness. I fill with fear at the possibility of regret. Maybe if I had studied it, taken advantage of my proximity to one of the great art schools, if practicality hadn’t beat out my youthful ignorance, maybe then I could have been great at taking pictures.
There have been accusations that I am living the life of a twenty year old. That I have regressed and somehow forgotten the lessons of my thirteen years since being of legal drinking age, that my assets have no value and my resourcefulness too close to calamity. The echoes I hear most strongly from that decade past is the decision to stop. I stopped seeking more to find a way to be safe and secure. I built in the prescribed blueprints, certified by the oldest of false idolized institutions, and buckled down. I found joy in my work, just not enough.
Because now as I turned away from being secure, all I hear is the taunts of failure. That I have failed to give myself the change and risk I have earned. That I must once again reconcile with mediocrity because I cannot find my way through the myriad cacophony of tests and assessments. I cannot show any success, thus I must have failed. No prophecy of success awaits me, and I may not be strong enough to withstand the winds of chance and fear. I have failed myself but once again not in the way of knowing real failure, not in that moment when a jump off the cliff tests those wings of wax and feather – rather my wings may remain in the closet to haunt me with more nightmares of mediocrity, almost there, just close enough for the threat of failure to win again.