March 04, 2005

Glorious Failure

Our doubts are traitors,
And make us lose the good we oft might win,
By fearing to attempt.

-- Measure for Measure, Act I, scene iv (William Shakespeare)

Despite my attempts to explain, some people still do not seem to understand why I am making this attempt. Apart from the most readily apparent reasons- charity, to set an example, and so on- I'm also doing this for myself. I swim to challenge myself, to push the boundaries of the human body and the human spirit- my body and my spirit.

People ask what happens if I die in the Channel. What happens if I don't make it? Will I have thrown away my life, my health, my sanity for a moment of fleeting glory? What benefit could there possibly be for having once swam solo across the English Channel?

What they don't understand is that the height of achievement lies not in the accomplishment of a dream, but in the pursuit of it. What will remain with me is not the fleeting moment of glory, but the hours I spent chasing the elusive dream and the sacrifices I made to make the dream possible.

Million Dollar Baby illustrates the nobility of this pursuit. You may agree or disagree with the movie and its ending, but there's no denying its message (If you don't want the ending spoilt for you, stop reading now). The film tells the story of a young woman, played by Hilary Swank, who escapes from a life of drudgery by spending her every spare hour in a boxing gym. For a while, it looks as if she is talented enough to escape. Then the fates deal her a terrible blow: she loses her championship fight, is horribly injured, and persuades her trainer, played by Clint Eastwood, to kill her. She tells him not to blame himself. Her belief is that it is far better to have tried and experienced the briefest glimpse of success, but ultimately fail, than it is to not try at all and live out your days in mediocrity. To not try: that is the worst possible failure, and she is far happier for having done what she has done.

In the movie, Eddie Dupris (Morgan Freeman) says, "If there's magic in boxing, it's the magic of fighting battles beyond endurance, beyond cracked ribs, ruptured kidneys and detached retinas. It's the magic of risking everything for a dream that nobody sees but you." The same goes for life in general. You have to be willing to risk yourself and everything you have for the achievement of your dreams. Therein lies the nobility of the pursuit of one's dreams. Failure isn't failure if you've given of your best. To paraphrase Vince Lombardi, I firmly believe that any man's finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle that in itself is a victory.

Posted by pj at March 4, 2005 08:20 PM