It is inevitable: some things sometimes do not work out. Who loves control more than […]

Duo Dickinson / 9.13.18

It is inevitable: some things sometimes do not work out.

Who loves control more than an architect? I have been one of those for 40 years, with 800 things built. But we’ve started over 1,000. We, I, failed over 200 times to build what we were designing.

Today, I lost the chance to work with a family I have done five other projects with over the last 20 years: mostly with great success and abiding friendships. They fully considered me and chose somebody else. The sad thing is that I have known the somebody else, and I like him.

But I was, and am still, a bit, crushed. At 63 years old.

I could say “God’s will.” I could say, well, my competitors do not build 50% of what they start (which has the added benefit, for pretentious architects like me, of being true). I could say, in perfect Howard Roark-ian hubris, “Damn the brain-dead cowards!”

But I do not: I feel like (expletive deleted) crap. Every time.

Like the missed block in high school, the incorrect stain spec when I was an intern, like my two fully failed collegiate romances, like any number of things that were unexpected (let alone uncontrolled) in the upbringing of our sons, I have precious little perspective other than to double down on my resolve and keep pushing on, despite my errors.

In my life’s work the failures are all me, all the time. I know Jesus should give me the Ultimate Backstop of failed expectations. Guess I fail at that too. I cannot pray for anything except forgiveness and thanks for what I have been given (which is just about everything).

Even though I have won over 30 design awards, I have entered over 200 competitions. So I failed about 200 times. I can blame the juries, and it has the antiseptic distance of my opting to enter, knowing the rules. But when a potential patron sees your life’s work, anoints you with a meeting (or five), and then, effectively, says, “Drop dead,” it rejects everything I have done for these 40 years.

Even though Teddy Roosevelt said, “There is no effort without error,” nothing vitiates the facts on the ground. I know that I am owed nothing. If you play, sometimes you lose. What is harder to accept is that for all living things there is a physical failure that is inevitable. We die. And the good and bad “things” that result from all the efforts we focus upon, things are not around much after us. Our children will die, too, and their children. Everything I have written will be forgotten. Most architects can’t relate to the truth that everything built gets scraped off this earth around here in the next Ice Age.

So nothing really counts, so chill. Have another drink. Binge watch. Eat the bacon.

No. Stuff matters beyond distraction. Beyond failure. Even beyond success.

I just wish I felt the love of Jesus so deeply that I could know that grace was all that really mattered, and that love is the only thing that lived beyond my death. But, like Groucho, I am not sure I could join any club that would have me.

The truth is that my scalded reaction to failure simply reflects that part of me that will forever feel unlovable. No matter what I “do.” No matter how much I am loved. Maybe due to an exile from Eden, maybe due to being the “Child of an Alcoholic,” maybe it’s just because, in truth, I do, truly, suck at some things that I want to be better at, but inevitably I fall short.

I will never be a linebacker for the Giants, or the architect for those who just rejected me, or even be the father I hoped I could be. But I know that Jesus was me for his first 30 years. That nothing I do ends his knowing love. That even though I deserve nothing, I have been given the ability to love, and fail, and try, and fail again.

For reasons that I am not clear on, I blame no circumstance, person, or conspiracy for the unabated failures that are part of my, and I assume every, life. My long passed mother-in-law, fully liberated by her last glass of wine, rose to toast at our wedding rehearsal dinner in 1980. She stood tall, fully in the throes of losing her daughter to marriage, and thrust out her glass to pronounce:

“To absent friends—may we all get what we deserve.”

The problem is that I never feel that I deserve much—good or ill, but least of all the love of God, which “passes all understanding,” which has yet to overcome the unending wrench of failures. But it is there, whether I like it or not.