“My Sweet Embraceable You”

Failure Forges – The Depths of Defeat need to be walked thru…

Ryan Sederquist – The Column – September 4, 2021

Ray Bradbury’s futuristic, time traveling short story, The Sound of Thunder, provides the inspiration for today’s column. My English class was prepped for reading with this journal question: “If you could go back in time to change something, what would it be AND how do you think the change would impact the present and future?” Not altogether convinced their cries of, “I wouldn’t change anything,” weren’t simply evasive ploys, I added, “If you HAD to change something, what would it be?” Deep down, I was actually pleased with their apparent adoption of a Romans 8:28 outlook, and their belief in the past shaping their present prompted me to share a few of my own related anecdotes.

Approaching an impending Maine winter, my wife and I, using one vehicle at the time, purchased a used SUV from the neighbor couple. They threw in new studded tires, which they recommended we put on soon. Of course, I put that off. Inadvertently, we both also lazily overlooked our insurance changeover for the car as well. When it ran off the road and collided with a large tree during October’s first blizzard, we lost the car and our $5,500 we paid for it. To cap it all off, our two dogs riding with me bit the groin of the sheriff on the scene, an action which forced us to put them down later that evening. To label the day as a “low” might be an understatement.

The point is, the only things we really learn in life are learned “the hard way.” We have to actually get in the sandbox for things to stick. This applies to sports as well. The surest way to being able to handle life at the top with class is experiencing the bottom with composure. Confident winners are forged from humiliating failure. Alone in the damp dungeons of Loserville, as the sounds of festive dancing above drone on, they realize no matter how low they are, the world keeps on spinning … even if their pants fell down as they tripped on the half-court line and then missed the game-winning shot … in overtime. 

On the one hand, it would be nice to apply my question of the day to erase my embarrassing artistic and athletic lows. Then again, they made me who I am today. It may sound cliche, but trust me, it’s a cliche quickly disappearing. In today’s society, we protect young people from failure and humiliation, I believe ultimately at their expense, constantly. I would argue it is precisely the act of marching through those lows which molds the character necessary to thrive when dancing through subsequent highs.

When I was nearing the end of my high school career, my dream of performing a trumpet solo in front of an orchestra was miraculously realized. As I walked into the blinding stage lights and lifted my horn to my embouchure, the prescient foes of sweat, a raised heart rate, and dried lips demonically surfaced. I knew I was doomed. That I would be able to enjoy – or even succeed in – sharing my perfected rendition of “My Sweet Embraceable You,” with an audience was out of the question. I chipped some notes and missed others, and when my harmonic fumbling finally finished, I sprinted off stage and ran directly to the farthest corner of the parking lot. I sat down in my tuxedo and forced myself into a nice cry. 

My neighbor, who happened to be my mom’s old choir director, had a son in the orchestra and must have anticipated my distress. All of a sudden, his car was next to me. Looking back at myself on that curb, I now see his interruption of my self-pity party as particularly meaningful because he – the musician – knew how I felt, and he knew that what I needed to hear was that the majority of the crowd didn’t. In fact, they would have hardly cared about my performance even if it had gone better than I had hoped. It was my moment in the dungeon, realizing my perception of what mattered couldn’t alter the world’s penchant for spinning.

Another dungeon moment came in 7th grade, when our middle school basketball team hosted rivals from the big city across the river. Nik Savageau, a talent I had faced for three years already on the traveling circuit, and would compete against, and never beat, all through high school, was in town. The clutch collegiate prospect eventually would ruin my senior year home Christmas tournament when he nullified my own 26-point effort with a buzzer-beating 30-foot bomb over the outstretched arms of our 6’4 guard Aaron Lien. Before our varsity battles, however, there was this middle school contest, where I mustered 0 points and managed to dribble towards the wrong hoop for an over-and-back call to start the second half. It wasn’t the Final Four, but distinguishing my locker room scene from Chris Webber’s in 1993 would have required a detective. I could not be consoled. It took hours to change and leave. 

I look back fondly at these snippets because they brought life to my present and future – very un-Bradbury like in that sense. I found freedom from performance anxiety in college and beyond and I welded a humble (hopefully) platform for athletic success, too. 

As today’s crop of young athletes are shielded and specialized in sport earlier and earlier, the likelihood of them experiencing this type of wide ranging devastation decreases. Eager parents cater, coaches serve instead of teach, and competition is manufactured to protect delicate souls from offensive or negative situations. I know this is done with good intentions, but I’m convinced it isn’t in their best interest. Authentic failure (not the kind where we give students academic passes for laziness and call it “failure”) is an essential experience in life. Humiliation is, too. If you don’t ever battle the dragon, you will live in fear of it, and nothing is more detrimental to growth than fear.

Strive for success. Be willing to walk through the fire of failure. 

And get those snow tires on before it’s too late.  

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