by Kelly Kahlstrom

Does it hold true, that when we have room to address our existential questions that suffering is eased? One great existential question is “what does it mean to be human?” As the following essay suggests…failing is part of the human experience.

“So last week I tried to hang myself on a stretch of land off I-35,” said my friend, who I call my cousin.

“Jesus,” I swore. “Why?”

But I already had an inkling that I knew the answer. My cousin’s story wasn’t very new to me anymore.

“I was tired of feeling like a failure,” he said.

And there it was, the F-word.

I heard him and knew his pains like they were my own. It remains one of my greatest regrets that my scholarly father lived to see his son enter college at an early age but died before he could see him leave at a late one. In my short life I have failed at more projects than I have accomplished, and even my accomplishments don’t look like much in retrospect. I work two jobs, one in a tenuous entry-level position, the other as a janitor. I have never had a romantic relationship that lasted over a year, and I drive a beat-up vehicle. Look for a picture of success online and you will not see the face of Raziq Brown.

I have stared into The Abyss known as Failure and Loss many times. Not only has it stared back, but it has pulled me down into its murky depths just as it did my cousin, several times in fact. I have seen at least one friend claimed by The Pit, know several who are spelunking it by way of various intoxicants, and know a few more who have thrown themselves in, only to be spared by grace in its various forms.

I come from a generation of people who are often called lazy, selfish, and impractical; not unlike those from many generations before. I cringe every time I hear such things. I know there is an entire population of young people literally killing themselves to prove their inherent worth to the world and to become successful by whatever means and in whatever mode they can.

They say my generation expects too much for too little. They say we are children who refuse to grow up.

I think back on my own life, and I know they are wrong.

Would the boy I was approve of the man I am? No, the boy I was would have thrown himself off the nearest bridge just to save himself from future embarrassment. The adolescent I was would have driven the car to get him to the bridge, and the man I was the year following my father’s death would have piled the boy with strong spirits so the fall wouldn’t hurt so bad. But I am not the child I was, the teen I was, nor the man I was then.

I am the man I am now. It is all I can ever be. It’s all any of us can be…Raziq George Brown.*

I leave you with this thought…”Success is not measured by what you accomplish, but by the opposition you have encountered, and the courage with which you have maintained the struggle against overwhelming odds.” Orison Swett Marden.

* Parker, Kayla ed. “Becoming: A spiritual guide for navigating adulthood”. Unitarian Universalist Association. 2014 pp 12-13.

Kelly is a recent graduate of Iliff School of Theology. She is the Justice Coordinator for Rebel and Divine UCC, a ministry in formation committed to the health and wholeness of at-risk youth and young adults. She has been a nurse for over 30 years and is currently employed by one of AZ’s Medicaid programs working with young pregnant women. Her passion is forming connections and playing with language in the liminal space between humanity and divinity.