Press on even when life brings pain and failure

So, here’s my column in today’s Greenville News.  It’s titled ‘Press on even when life brings pain and failure.’  That’s sort of the point, but more to the point, it’s about how there’s joy in risk, and a nation of citizens who cannot sense that is a nation in danger.  Read it for yourself, and see what you think.


PS  Column text follows link.

I recently treated two young men, both injured in the same football game.  On the way out, one passed the other in the hall, injuries treated and dressed. ‘See you next game!’ they said.  They laughed and looked forward to the struggle.

My wife and I have tried to raise our kids that way.  To enjoy life, to move through difficulty and injury. They suffer from having a physician father, so visits to the ER (for them and their cousins) often equate to visits to the dining room table or the pantry pharmacy for whatever over the counter drug will do the trick.  ‘You’ll be fine,’ is a commonly spoken phrase at Leap General, where mama and papa are the only staff available for consultation or second opinions.

We’ve seen bicycle wrecks (from my sons inexplicably ‘playing chicken with a tree’), scorpion stings and briar cuts from running through the woods in sandals.  We’ve had burnt fingers from working in our very hot coal-fired smithy and various episodes of cough, cold, fever, ear-ache and vomiting.  The kids have had wounds from arrows (covered wisely with foam balls on the tip). Bruises from heavy plastic training swords are not uncommon.

The lesson we hope to instill is simply this:  Get on with it.  Get back in the game of life. Get a bad test score?  Try harder.  Feel afraid to stand in front of people?  Give it a shot anyway.  Fall off the bike?  Get back on. (We don’t have horses.) Life is like that.

The thing is, life is a battle, whether you like that bellicose image or not.  In our brief sweep of years we will struggle with health, education and work.  We will struggle to protect our families,  practice our faith and ensure the future of the Republic.

Sometimes illness will win. Friendships may falter.  Education may not be enough.  Careers may wax and wane.  Our beliefs will be challenged.  Things won’t go our way.  Nations will fall.

To which we must say, ‘press on.’ We have to move past excuses and pain, past the fear of uncertainty or risk.  We have to step out and once again create a nation where failure and struggle are sources of motivation and inspiration, not excuses to surrender.

Much has been written about the age of exploration and colonization.  About the terrible things  done in the name of nation, wealth or progress.  Some are true.  But we would certainly be better if we could only recover that love of danger, discovery and uncertainty.  It was the thing that opened continents and took us to the moon.  It was the spirit that defeated tyrants, diseases, injustices and ignorance with the same passionate joy.

We have become timid and fearful.  We act as if failure must be rescued, that all risk must be mitigated by the herd, that greatness is the same as arrogance, or progress the same as regress.  We turn things upside down by blaming everyone else for our inadequacies and expecting legislators or executives or courts to sooth our hurt feelings by mandating equality of all outcomes, by stretching a net across the chasm of public life so that we can only fall so far…and only climb so high.

What am I saying?  A nation that foments and grows weakness and incapacity, that shields its populace from every risk, criticism, pain or uncomfortable truth is a nation that will not endure.  A nation that scoffs at success built on struggle and rewards bad decisions with bribes from the public coffers is a nation doomed.  And a nation of people for whom even the slightest discomfort requires anesthesia is a nation drifting off to an endless sleep of irrelevance.

Much has been written by wise men down the years about this, by men like Kipling and Edgar Guest.  But my favorite comes from Edgar Lee Masters, in his Spoon River Anthology, a series of poems in which the dead look back on life.  Lucinda Matlock, a pioneer woman, describes her joys and sorrows with no regret and condemns her descendents.  ‘Degenerate sons and daughters, life is too strong for you.  It takes life to love life.’

I couldn’t agree more.  Neither could the two boys I saw in the ER that night.  Because in the battle of life, win or lose, live or die, there is secret joy that only the ferocious can ever comprehend.

34 thoughts on “Press on even when life brings pain and failure

  1. Dear Dr. Leap,

    To start with an account of two young men and end with a terrific lesson for the whole nation leaves me breathless with hope and encouragement! How exciting to read what many of us think and believe. Your column makes so much sense and, as a Christian, I can see how your words might appeal to those who don’t necessarily profess belief in God. That, to me, is a great first step. The overall take-away is solid enthusiasm and healthy appreciation for life, love and the (sometimes difficult) pursuit of happiness. Thank you for a much-needed boost!

    Always, Susan Luttrell
    Mauldin, SC

  2. Respected Dr. Leap,
    I have enjoyed the articles of yours that I have seen, and I think that you write well on your topics. One thought I had about the “Press on” article has to do with personality types. We are all made differently, but there are some broad commonalities. In our culture, about 60% of people have the “Guardian” personality type, which seems to be your point of view. But I hope that you take in to account that we need all the personality aspects of people to do the work of the society. I don’t defend the people that you say expect more than what is reasonable from others, but I admit: I have not seen very many such people, so I can’t imagine that this is a huge problem. Perhaps we see more of them on TV than on the streets?
    A friend of mine in college (long ago) had to rebuke me when I was being judgmental of someone by telling me, “It takes all kinds of people to make a world.” I have no authority to speak to you, but I ask that you consider that there is always another side to things, and everyone is to some extent blinkered by their own “understanding”.
    Thank you.

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  22. Good post however I was wondering if you could write a litte more on this subject? I’d be very grateful if you could elaborate a little bit further. Cheers!

  23. really i am impressing with your quote “Get on with it. Get back in the game of life. Get a bad test score? Try harder. Feel afraid to stand in front of people? Give it a shot anyway. Fall off the bike? Get back on. (We don’t have horses.) Life is like that.”

  24. I remember that reading somewhere that everything happens for a reason good or bad and everything is really a learning experience, you just have to say that to yourself over and over. If you are one who is familiar with astrology this ive read about 6 years ago here, its a faith that will really help you

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