A Pleasing Dramatic Arc

“Failure and recovery make for a grand narrative, transforming an ordinary person or politician into something more like a literary character. Like odysseys and coming-of-age stories and parables of exile, failure gives a life or a career a pleasing dramatic arc.” These lines, from a Liza Mundy piece in The Atlantic, came to mind recently after a terrible run. I felt fine but struggled the entire way; slow to get dressed, sitting in the car for 20 minutes while “mentally” preparing for the run, and of course quitting after a few miles. It was a waste of three hours during a busy week. It was a failure, albeit it not a huge one, but a failure nonetheless. On the drive home I thought about other larger failures in my life. There have been quite a few.


One of the reasons that I love programs like A.A. is that they are havens for those in need of second (and third, fourth, and fifth) chances. These are diametrically opposed to most of society and the media which are more interested in condemning a person permanently. The rise of social media and the 24-hour news cycle has only exacerbated these phenomena. Thanks to Twitter, Facebook, etc, everyone can comment and mete out his or her own justice. How often do we see an “ordinary” person suddenly thrust into the public eye, scrutinized, and an autopsy performed on their actions? Then just as quickly they’re left, reputation ruined and life destroyed? Jon Ronson’s new book covers these “pitchfolk mobs” well. The failure and recovery of which Mundy wrote seem to occur more in church basements than in the public square.

I recall a minister explaining that Christianity initially did not have a good PR record; the Savior is crucified after being betrayed by one of his best friends, one of the early leaders was cowardly and denied the Savior, and another early leader hunted down Christians and killed them before his conversion. This isn’t the ideal way to start a new religion but what they lacked in holiness they made up in perseverance. How different would the world be if they had been benched after the one strike? As we approach Christmas, my prayer is for more kindness and understanding in the world. To err is human, but to forgive is divine.



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