Mistakes Were Made

[blue rare]

As Alexander Pope once pointed out, to err is human.  Mistakes, just like forms of love, are of infinite variety, coming in all shapes and sizes.  Error, clanger, boner, blunder, mishap, foible, fuck up, and faux pas; viewed from a certain perspective, my own life has been an impressive litany of them.

There are those small, innocent, everyday errors to which each of us inevitably fall prey.  Being at an elegant dinner party, for example, and mistakenly using a soup spoon in place of a steak knife, or accidentally setting fire to the hostess’s curtains.

Then there are those missteps that can be seen to arise from certain flaws in one’s personality.  For example, I once went on a three-day junket to Las Vegas with nothing but maxed-out credit cards and less than forty dollars in cash in my wallet, in the cocksure expectation that I would quickly achieve mastery of the games of blackjack and roulette, thereby covering my expenses.  Obviously, I ended up living off of free hotdogs and watered-down vodka drinks in the keno lounge of my hotel for the last two days.  There is no acceptable explanation for that level of ass-hattery, so I won’t try to provide one.

Most disconcertingly of all, there are existential mistakes that reveal devastating, unwanted glimpses into who we truly are, in contrast to who we might wish to be.  Running out of a burning building without attempting to rescue your elderly neighbour’s cat, or your elderly neighbour, might well be an example of this.  Cruel words or deeds that can be forever regretted, and possibly even forgiven, but never forgotten or reversed.  Inexplicable, incongruous acts of betrayal or cowardice that we have committed.  These can be difficult to admit to, even to ourselves, but they have a way of haunting us, of messing with our psyches and our dreams.

But there are many happy mistakes, as well.  Taking a wrong turn downtown, for instance, and bumping into an old and cherished friend.  Accepting—and then instantly regretting having accepted—an invitation to a social engagement that turns out to be one of the best times of your life.  Embarking on some ill-conceived adventure or taking on some project that turns out to be disastrously overwhelming or fraught with unforeseen complications, but which leaves you, at the end of the day, a wiser, more resilient, more resourceful human being.

Maybe one of the most consequential lessons we can learn in this life is how to respect, value, and love ourselves, and others, as complex, fully formed human beings.  We are, each of us, divinely beautiful monsters, covered from head to foot in beauty marks and warts.  Perhaps we are, each and every one of us, no more or less than an existential error.  If so, I can’t help but believe that it’s a happy one, overall.  Whatever the case, I believe we could all do worse than to follow the advice of the Magic School Bus’s Miss Frissell to go about our days taking chances, making mistakes, and getting messy.  It’s the only sure way we learn.