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Failure as a Success

Source: The Majesty of Calmness

It ofttimes requires heroic courage to face fruitless effort, to take
up the broken strands of a life-work, to look bravely toward the
future, and proceed undaunted on our way. But what, to our eyes, may
seem hopeless failure is often but the dawning of a greater success. It
may contain in its debris the foundation material of a mighty purpose,
or the revelation of new and higher possibilities.

Some years ago, it was proposed to send logs from Canada to New York,
by a new method. The ingenious plan of Mr. Joggins was to bind great
logs together by cables and iron girders and to tow the cargo as a
raft. When the novel craft neared New York and success seemed assured,
a terrible storm arose. In the fury of the tempest, the iron bands
snapped like icicles and the angry waters scattered the logs far and
wide. The chief of the Hydrographic Department at Washington heard of
the failure of the experiment, and at once sent word to shipmasters the
world over, urging them to watch carefully for these logs which he
described; and to note the precise location of each in latitude and
longitude and the time the observation was made.

Hundreds of captains, sailing over the waters of the earth, noted the
logs, in the Atlantic Ocean, in the Mediterranean, in the South Seas--
for into all waters did these venturesome ones travel. Hundreds of
reports were made, covering a period of weeks and months. These
observations were then carefully collated, systematized and tabulated,
and discoveries were made as to the course of ocean currents that
otherwise would have been impossible. The loss of the Joggins raft was
not a real failure, for it led to one of the great discoveries in
modern marine geography and navigation.

In our superior knowledge we are disposed to speak in a patronizing
tone of the follies of the alchemists of old. But their failure to
transmute the baser metals into gold resulted in the birth of
chemistry. They did not succeed in what they attempted, but they
brought into vogue the natural processes of sublimation, filtration,
distillation, and crystallization; they invented the alembic, the
retort, the sand-bath, the water-bath and other valuable instruments.
To them is due the discovery of antimony, sulphuric ether and
phosphorus, the cupellation of gold and silver, the determining of the
properties of saltpetre and its use in gunpowder, and the discovery of
the distillation of essential oils. This was the success of failure, a
wondrous process of Nature for the highest growth,--a mighty lesson of
comfort, strength, and encouragement if man would only realize and
accept it.

Many of our failures sweep us to greater heights of success, than we
ever hoped for in our wildest dreams. Life is a successive unfolding of
success from failure. In discovering America Columbus failed
absolutely. His ingenious reasoning and experiment led him to believe
that by sailing westward he would reach India. Every redman in America
carries in his name "Indian," the perpetuation of the memory of the
failure of Columbus. The Genoese navigator did not reach India; the
cargo of "souvenirs" he took back to Spain to show to Ferdinand and
Isabella as proofs of his success, really attested his failure. But the
discovery of America was a greater success than was any finding of a
"back-door" to India.

When David Livingstone had supplemented his theological education by a
medical course, he was ready to enter the missionary field. For over
three years he had studied tirelessly, with all energies concentrated
on one aim,--to spread the gospel in China. The hour came when he was
ready to start out with noble enthusiasm for his chosen work, to
consecrate himself and his life to his unselfish ambition. Then word
came from China that the "opium war" would make it folly to attempt to
enter the country. Disappointment and failure did not long daunt him;
he offered himself as missionary to Africa,--and he was accepted. His
glorious failure to reach China opened a whole continent to light and
truth. His study proved an ideal preparation for his labors as
physician, explorer, teacher and evangel in the wilds of Africa.

Business reverses and the failure of his partner threw upon the broad
shoulders and the still broader honor and honesty of Sir Walter Scott a
burden of responsibility that forced him to write. The failure spurred
him to almost super-human effort. The masterpieces of Scotch historic
fiction that have thrilled, entertained and uplifted millions of his
fellow-men are a glorious monument on the field of a seeming failure.

When Millet, the painter of the "Angelus" worked on his almost divine
canvas, in which the very air seems pulsing with the regenerating
essence of spiritual reverence, he was painting against time, he was
antidoting sorrow, he was racing against death. His brush strokes, put
on in the early morning hours before going to his menial duties as a
railway porter, in the dusk like that perpetuated on his canvas,--meant
strength, food and medicine for the dying wife he adored. The art
failure that cast him into the depths of poverty unified with
marvellous intensity all the finer elements of his nature. This rare
spiritual unity, this purging of all the dross of triviality as he
passed through the furnace of poverty, trial, and sorrow gave eloquence
to his brush and enabled him to paint as never before,--as no
prosperity would have made possible.

Failure is often the turning-point, the pivot of circumstance that
swings us to higher levels. It may not be financial success, it may not
be fame; it may be new draughts of spiritual, moral or mental
inspiration that will change us for all the later years of our life.
Life is not really what comes to us, but what we get from it.

Whether man has had wealth or poverty, failure or success, counts for
little when it is past. There is but one question for him to answer, to
face boldly and honestly as an individual alone with his conscience and
his destiny:

"How will I let that poverty or wealth affect me? If that trial or
deprivation has left me better, truer, nobler, then,--poverty has been
riches, failure has been a success. If wealth has come to me and has
made me vain, arrogant, contemptuous, uncharitable, cynical, closing
from me all the tenderness of life, all the channels of higher
development, of possible good to my fellow-man, making me the mere
custodian of a money-bag, then,--wealth has lied to me, it has been
failure, not success; it has not been riches, it has been dark,
treacherous poverty that stole from me even Myself." All things become
for us then what we take from them.

Failure is one of God's educators. It is experience leading man to
higher things; it is the revelation of a way, a path hitherto unknown
to us. The best men in the world, those who have made the greatest real
successes look back with serene happiness on their failures. The
turning of the face of Time shows all things in a wondrously
illuminated and satisfying perspective.

Many a man is thankful to-day that some petty success for which he once
struggled, melted into thin air as his hand sought to clutch it.
Failure is often the rock-bottom foundation of real success. If man, in
a few instances of his life can say, "Those failures were the best
things in the world that could have happened to me," should he not face
new failures with undaunted courage and trust that the miraculous
ministry of Nature may transform these new stumbling-blocks into new

Our highest hopes, are often destroyed to prepare us for better things.
The failure of the caterpillar is the birth of the butterfly; the
passing of the bud is the becoming of the rose; the death or
destruction of the seed is the prelude to its resurrection as wheat. It
is at night, in the darkest hours, those preceding dawn, that plants
grow best, that they most increase in size. May this not be one of
Nature's gentle showings to man of the times when he grows best, of the
darkness of failure that is evolving into the sunlight of success. Let
us fear only the failure of not living the right as we see it, leaving
the results to the guardianship of the Infinite.

If we think of any supreme moment of our lives, any great success, any
one who is dear to us, and then consider how we reached that moment,
that success, that friend, we will be surprised and strengthened by the
revelation. As we trace each one, back, step by step, through the
genealogy of circumstances, we will see how logical has been the course
of our joy and success, from sorrow and failure, and that what gives us
most happiness to-day is inextricably connected with what once caused
us sorrow. Many of the rivers of our greatest prosperity and growth
have had their source and their trickling increase into volume among
the dark, gloomy recesses of our failure.

There is no honest and true work, carried along with constant and
sincere purpose that ever really fails. If it sometime seem to be
wasted effort, it will prove to us a new lesson of "how" to walk; the
secret of our failures will prove to us the inspiration of possible
successes. Man living with the highest aims, ever as best he can, in
continuous harmony with them, is a success, no matter what statistics
of failure a near-sighted and half-blind world of critics and
commentators may lay at his door.

High ideals, noble efforts will make seeming failures but trifles, they
need not dishearten us; they should prove sources of new strength. The
rocky way may prove safer than the slippery path of smoothness. Birds
cannot fly best with the wind but against it; ships do not progress in
calm, when the sails flap idly against the unstrained masts.

The alchemy of Nature, superior to that of the Paracelsians, constantly
transmutes the baser metals of failure into the later pure gold of
higher success, if the mind of the worker be kept true, constant and
untiring in the service, and he have that sublime courage that defies
fate to its worst while he does his best.

Next: Doing Our Best at All Times

Previous: The Dignity of SelfReliance

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