“The mission of Apollo 13 was called ‘A Successful Failure.’ That means we made it back safely, but never made it to the moon.”
~ Jim Lovell ~
We started the New Year by watching a documentary on the Apollo 13 mission; a mission perhaps known to most people today because of the Ron Howard movie, of the same name, which stars Tom Hanks. The film is excellent, as was the documentary, which also ended with Jim Lovell’s words about their mission being a successful failure, because while they did not make it to the moon, the missions intended purpose, NASA did bring home the crew successfully, despite perilous odds.
As we turned off the television, the words “successful failure” stayed with me; I told Kate, that is what we can be a “successful failure”!
I know, “successful failure”, is an oxymoron. Merriam Webster: “A combination of contradictory or incongruous words (such as cruel kindness)”
How can we both succeed and fail? A good question to ponder as we begin a New Year; a time when we traditionally look back and reflect, while making plans for the future – is that also an oxymoron?
After I got up from watching the documentary, I went out into the pool room, to water my plants; an activity that has become bitter sweet this year. (Yes, I see that oxymoron as well, who knew!) Over the summer we had a massive die off of plants, which broke my heart. I am quite attached to every plant I grow, and honestly am not used to them not thriving. I believe I inherited my Mother’s green thumb, and learning to garden in California, where everything grows, put the standard of success quite high. In Florida, there was a learning curve in terms of things like zucchini and geraniums, both which grew happily in California, but were constantly attacked by fungus in Florida, but I adapted. Thanks to Ibis, who gave me my first orchid, I switched to orchids for flowering plants that hold their bloom. Sadly, the orchids were most strongly affected by the die off this summer; and as you know, if you have read these pages, my love for orchids was another passion shared with my Mother, so even a deeper cut.
As I watered, I noticed how happy my tomato plant was, it has four bright red tomatoes, waiting for Miss Annaka and Master Thaddaeus to come harvest. I lingered on the plant for a few extra seconds, and I thought about how much they enjoy picking “fresh” tomatoes and cucumbers off the plant. So much so that when Miss Annaka made me a painting this year, as a way of saying thank you for hosting a birthday party for her and her brother’s, she actually included the tomato and cucumber plants; both which survived the die off. (I also noticed that two orchids, which I placed atop a large pot that holds ginger and a grape vine, have green sprouts – hope!)
Yes, the failure of the orchids and other plants I lost this summer is palatable; but more important is the success of the tomato plant that brings my great-niece and great-nephew such pleasure.
That is the key, I decided; the sorrows and heartache are all real, but so is the joy. As I sat down to begin this column, I started to think about so many things this year that are painted with strokes of darkness yet still illuminate. Kate left IBM after more than twenty years, but she has landed safely and successfully at McAfee.
She had a hammer drop on her head, the weekend between jobs (dealing with insurance still), but in the process of addressing the injury, after the cat-scan, the doctor told her that she had a beautiful brain!
I remember leaving the hospital that night, having felt quite despondent while we sat there, waiting to see what was happening and what would come next, but thinking in this age of wide spread dementia and knowing too many people impacted by issues related to their brain, at least we have nothing to worry about with Kate’s brain; and they had stopped the bleeding, so all was well.
But is all truly well? I wanted another cup of tea, and as I walked out of my office this morning, I saw the bag of Christmas gifts that we had been told to come pick-up, after we had dropped them off, on Christmas Eve. That still felt raw and painful; I thought as I walked toward the kitchen.
This year, Kate and I had decided to go back to one of our Floridian traditions, of dropping off Christmas gifts and goodies after Christmas Eve services; the service had actually gone quite well and it had been nice to reconnect with “our family pastor” which is what both Kate and I call Pastor Rick. But being sent a text, letting us know that our gifts were unwanted, had felt deeply painful and so far away from everything Christmas is supposed to represent, that we ended up cancelling the rest of our deliveries that night; how could that be turned into a success?
Christine, Christine turned it into a success. Christine, whom we have known since she was a child, wanted to go caroling, “like in the movies”. I asked for help, to fulfil this wish, and Kelly answered that her church was caroling on Sunday evening; and yes we could join them! It was cold and rainy, but we had such a marvelous time visiting with Kelly, caroling, and reconnecting with that church – so much so that we indeed went to the perfect Christmas Eve service, and that was what mattered, after all – success!
Though Blanch, Christine’s sister, was not able to come, Christine coming to New England, gave us all an opportunity to spend uninterrupted time together; and allowed us to share not only our lives with each other, making wonderfully joyful memories, but also experience all of these wonderful first with Christine, a true and rare treat! I cannot believe what a wonderful time we all had, yes, all of us enjoyed our visit, how often is that true? And, I even think we have laid the ground work for creating a few new traditions! I think I am getting the handle on this notion; it really is all about perspective.
While no one initially contacted me about last month’s article, which was one of the closest to my heart that I have written (and I must say I do know a few Cuban people and did make a point of pointing out that this was one I wanted to talk about), Marcial did begin to the read the book and almost instantaneously had the same reaction, of wanting more and being drawn by Mr. Eire’s mind, as I did! Marcial has even ordered Learning to Die in Miami; thus it may not have been immediate gratification, but I am going to get to talk about Waiting for Snow in Havana with someone!
In yesterday’s mail this box arrived for Kate from Chanel. I looked at her and asked if she was expecting something, she said no, and told me to go ahead and open it, which I did. I must say that I love how Chanel packages their products, and yes, I save the boxes. Many years ago, I happened upon their Gardenia perfume, gardenias are my favorite flower, favorite scent, and thus my favorite perfume. I opened the well wrapped box, with a lovely note: “Chanel.com wishes you a happy holiday season and a beautiful new year.” Oh my, I thought; Kate confirmed she had not ordered anything, and I felt like a ten year old child, on Christmas morning.
I love free things, it is one reason I have had so much success with my many finds in other peoples discarded trash; but something free from Chanel, well, that does take free to a bit of a different level. Inside the box was this beautiful black journal; oh my, yet again. As I touched the journal, imagining for a moment what words it might one day house, I could not help but wonder how much money had Kate spent on my perfume this year, that Chanel would be sending her a free gift; but I did not ask.
Maybe Kate had paid a great deal for my free moment of pleasure and joy, but what a nice way to close out a complicated year and begin to think of the New Year. Thank you Kate and thank you Chanel!
I do so wish you a Happy New Year and I pray that God blesses you; and that all of your failures are lined with success – That is All For Now!