The Importance Of Not Giving Up

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There was once a man who never gave up. 

When you picture the man who never gives up, you might expect him to be a successful athlete, or a heroic warrior, but this man was neither. 

If he were successful, his resilience would never have been tested, and nobody would know his name.  

But since he was a failure, his resilience was tested, and he was often successful only in showcasing his resilience, we all know his name to be Grant. 

Grant failed every day. 

He failed to maintain himself. He swore up and down to care for himself, but rarely ate and often forgot to brush his teeth. He had never made a traditional doctor’s appointment, but he would make over two hundred individual visits to the local emergency room over the course of his life. 

He was late to everything, and perfectly unreliable by reputation. On his ninth birthday, he was held up with responsibilities after school and arrived six hours late to his own party. He missed all the festivities, and only heard the clown as his oversized shoes squeaked out the door.

He failed academically. Attendance eluded him through the unfortunate side effects of the previous paragraph. Through the combined effort of his focus and his passion, he could eke out a passing grade, but the effort left him drained, exhausted and fully well spent. When he was sixteen, he dropped out of high school hopeful about his prospects on the job market. 

He failed professionally. Never once in his life was he paid fairly for the value of his work. In his youth, he suffered the indignities of retail and food service and never grew comfortable there. He struggled to communicate with customers, and often left bad impressions on people. Even worse, he struggled to connect with his co-workers. He toiled in professions unglamorous and underpaid, and worst of all, he worked the long hours feeling entirely alone. 

He failed personally. He married his high school sweetheart after a (later discovered to be false) pregnancy scare, and in most ways, they were extremely incompatible. They differed in class, race, religion, upbringing, and gender, and thus found it difficult to see any sort of common ground. At times, they got into explosive arguments that left both Grant and his wife doubting the integrity of their marriage. 

In many ways, life was exceedingly difficult for Grant. In his life were innumerable circumstances that could have embittered him to the joys of the world. Things that were out of his control, and unfairly made each step along the way more difficult than it was for the people around him. Grant did not see it this way, because he downed failure like cold glasses of ice water. 

He failed every day. To each, he said: 

“I have failed, but I will try again.” 

As he failed every day, he stopped worrying about the innumerable circumstances beyond his control. In exchange for his toil and trouble, a nascent wisdom bubbled within. When confronted with the oblivion of daily failure, that which was within his control was brought into sharp relief. This was his failure, and this was what he earned for it. 

The world had never taught him how to take care of himself. Grant arrived kicking and screaming, and blew out his voice shouting for attention that never came. In his youth, he ignored the holes in his self-care because acknowledging them would mean acknowledging the pain of his upbringing. Failure was the only stone that could shatter the illusion. 

Grant had failed because he set himself up for failure. He was angry at the world for raising him improperly, and spent his adulthood raising himself improperly. Since he had never been taken care of, he resolved to do it himself. 

He learned to listen to his body. Signals that had long been buried and ignored finally found purchase in his open mind. A torrent of symptoms surfaced across his body like the waxing moon and left him properly punished for his boldness. Laid up sick at the hands of all the pain he had stowed away, Grant could have regressed on his brave journey. He chose to accept this consequence, and in doing so, he started to feel better.  

He tried to remember everything, but everything was vast, and his mind was not. Since he could not remember everything, he wrote notes to himself about that which he could not remember. He made alarms at all hours and every fifteen minutes of the day, so that he might finally (sometimes) be on time. 

In all the excitement of learning to learn, Grant quickly applied to several universities, only to be quickly rejected. Community college was briefly on the table, but even now accustomed to the bitter ichor of failure, Grant was not cut out for school. He had a family to take care of, and the act of being tested filled his stomach with tangled knots of dread. And although he knew in his heart that school would only bring him unhappiness, the desire for knowledge called out to him like a siren wailing just beyond the fog. 

His experiences in school had taught him that he could not learn, and echoed as critical voices in his cramped noggin. These voices had always led him to ruin, and he wished desperately to prove them wrong. So although he would never receive a degree, and there would be nothing to show for it, Grant chose to learn anyway. 

He began with painting. He was terrible at it. In his firm fumblings, he frequently drove his paintbrushes cleanly through the trampoline of his canvases, and painted over the matte gray duct tape that held them back together. He spent ten years painting every single day, and even then, his paintings were unremarkable. He never sold a painting in his lifetime, nor did that particularly matter to him. In his living room, there hung a simple painting of a wristwatch he had done in his early sixties. When company would inquire about its content, he said: 

“My neurologist commissioned this one. It means I don’t have Alzheimers.”

Although Grant would never be paid fairly for his wages, he still worked as hard as he could. Indeed, for the first twenty years of his professional life, he hopped from sector to sector, doing his best but never finding passion or placement anywhere. Each oddjob and dishonored side hustle paved his resume until it was a well-rounded fortress. Finally, now with mostly grown children, Grant found something that could support his family in the waste management sector. He was the man who hung onto the back of the dump truck, and heaved all the junk into it. Unglamorous, and underpaid, but something worth doing, and worth doing well. 

Grant and his family led meager lives. Their house was cramped, and even once their children were numerous enough to field a full track relay team, they shared but a single toilet. They had what they needed to get by, and received few of the things that they wanted. But each and every one of their children were vibrant streaks of power, noise, and joy in Grant’s life. They grew up understanding how to take care of themselves. Frequently, Grant found himself on the receiving end of a lecture on the topic of cleanliness, manners, and honor from his children. He could give to them that which he could not give to himself. His children could have no understanding of how hard it was for him to learn these lessons, and as he watched them grow into brilliant iterations of his stunning failures, their ignorance brought a smile to his crinkled cheeks. But, strange as it is to say, they were not his greatest point of pride. 

Grant and his wife were magnificently incompatible, their marriage would be the great project of their lives. When their love was young, it survived under the cover of lust and their undeveloped frontal lobes, but as the embers of lust grew cold and the years flew by, they struggled even making simple conversation. In all their courtship, and through the better part of a decade together, Grant had not learned how to speak with the love of his life. And by this point, she had given up on communicating with him altogether. 

But by then, Grant had finally understood the realm of the things that were within his control. So just like he fumbled with his paints on the back patio, just like he toiled in the halls of countless corporate franchise businesses, and just like the failure of a boy she fell in love with, Grant made his first steps. At first, he bought her a potted plant. A prickly cactus that he laid on the kitchen counter one evening home late from work. When she saw it the next morning, a flower had bloomed out of the top and it made her sad tiredness twist into a hopeful little smile. 

“You got this for me?” She did not remember the last gift she had received. 

“Because I will never give up on you.” Grant said, and within him bloomed a thousand new ways he thought he might show it. 

In the winter, he bought her flowers each week, carefully asking her questions about each one and taking notes all the while. 

In the spring, he began making his own arrangements out of her favorites, and placing them at her bedside table while she slept. 

In the summer, he searched his notes for all the flowers that aroused happiness in his love, and planted seeds for each one outside her bedroom window. 

By the autumn, the flowers had withered, but in their place was a grand affection grown from two who had chosen to love one another through constant failure and perfect incompatibility. Grant was an ungifted gardener, and without his love, he would have planted and killed a thousand shrubs, flowers, and trees. 

Even though they were incurably different, the two could build a life together that was altogether impossible on their own. Although they often failed, came from different places, and were imperfect, their choice to love and understand one another was a beacon of light even in the darkest winters.

That very next winter, the two of them made plans for a garden that still blooms today. It was never revealed or important who was responsible for which parts, only that when they peered out of their bedroom window each morning, they were reminded of what they could do together.

If Grant had not failed, he might never have gotten to truly know his wife, his children, or himself. Anyone could grow such as this when given the opportunity to profoundly fail.

It was difficult. It felt like a steep uphill climb, and in its infancy, understanding presented itself as continued failure. At many times, Grant felt hopeless, and when his greatest failures confronted him, he struggled to go on. And yet, even though he continued to fail, he tried again. And that made him very, very happy.