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Icarus Re-assessed

I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.

That’s how Jack Gilbert ends his poem, “Failing and Flying” and it offers a refreshing perspective, doesn’t it? People often say, “Don’t be afraid to fail.” But isn’t it true that identifying an experience as a “failure” almost necessarily evokes fear? Why not talk about “coming to the end of a triumph”?

This poem echoes G.K. Chesterton, “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly,” but then re-frames this idea in reference to Gilbert’s divorce:

Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after
swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of
that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage
failed?

Gilbert is offering the wisdom of re-assessment. The verb, assess, comes from a Latin noun that defined an official who sat beside a judge and provided support, often in the form of fixing a set price on a fine or tax. To re-assess, is to take another look at what we value. As Gilbert puts it, “Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.”

I get it that no one wants to crash and burn. No one wants a marriage to end in divorce. No one wants a member to leave a community of faith or a church to shut its doors forever. Yet, in reference to this last example, I think it would help people accept a difficult reality if they viewed the experience differently – a community of faith that had years together, of babies born and dead remembered, of baptisms and weddings, of learning and sharing. Of growing together.

To me, these are the churches that are not dying, but just coming to the end of a triumph. So don’t be afraid. Remember that you’ve flown too.

About Andrew Taylor-Troutman

I am a pastor and a preacher, a writer, a husband and a father. My professional and personal lives are deeply involved with story-telling: stories that are silly and poignant or profound and commonplace. Stories that are tear-jerkers and belly-shakers. Stories about my son, Sam, and the congregation I serve, New Dublin Presbyterian Church. Each in its own way, these personal narratives shed light on the great story that God is writing with humankind and all of creation.

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