When I was a little boy, I lived in the small town of Afton, Wyoming. In those days it was a place where keys were left in the cars, doors remained unlocked, and it was safe to leave young children home.
On this particular day, my mother had to go to town, and she was comfortable leaving Gary and Roger, my two cousins, and me alone without a worry about our safety. We were five years old. While it was true that she didn’t need to worry about our safety, it was not true that we were safe from our own mischief.
After she left, one of us came up with an idea that was readily approved and acted upon by all. We decided it would be fun to pile all the furniture in the house against the front door and not let Mom in when she returned home, which is exactly what we did. We piled our couch, table, chairs, beds, and whatever else was in the house up against the door. We also added to the mess by throwing all our puzzles, books, papers, and whatever else we could find around the room.
After completing our project, we realized we had made a mistake. We had forgotten to barricade the back door. We knew she would be home soon and, unfortunately, all we had left for the back door was the refrigerator and the old ringer washing machine.
Shortly after finishing with the back door, the greatly anticipated arrival of Mom became reality. She walked up to the front door, turned the knob, and pushed, but it wouldn’t open. Three sets of eyes were glued to the window watching her struggle and laughing at her because she couldn’t get in. She looked into those eyes and told us to let her in and three little heads shook, telling her “no.” Then we laughed harder.
To assume that she was upset by our behavior would be an accurate assumption. She walked down the front steps and headed to the back door. By the time she arrived at the back door her adrenaline was pumping and at that moment I thought she could have lifted a car. At the door, she pushed, and we pushed, and we lost. My cousins were sent home, and I don’t remember what happened to me other than sitting on the front room floor, crying, and putting puzzles together.
As I discussed this experience with a friend of mine, he pointed out that sitting on the floor putting together the puzzles I had strewn about could be a metaphor for life. The puzzles themselves were simple and appropriate for my age. My job was to figure out where each piece went and how it fit with the other pieces so I could put back together the world I had so carelessly torn apart.
The same is true of life’s challenges at any age. In spite of her anger and disappointment, Mom showed that five-year-old me how much she truly loved me by encouraging me, guiding me, yet still holding me accountable to pick up the pieces and put those puzzles back together myself. As we mature, we develop the skills needed to put together ever more challenging and complex puzzles.
Throughout my life, Mom continued to help me put together my personal life puzzle. Challenges and opportunities for growth become more difficult and complicated as we get older but through diligence and the help of our “tribe” of loving parents, understanding friends, compassionate teachers, and loyal mentors, we can pick up the pieces, figure out how they fit into our own puzzle, and grow and become stronger along the way.
Happy Failing Forward,
Calvert and Anne
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