Off the Pulpit

Without an Appendix

The great chess master Savielly Tartakower used to say that the winner of a game was the one who had made the next to last mistake. Note he did not say the one who makes the most brilliant moves. Tartakower knew that brilliancy depends on error. 

The biographies of successful people remind us of the prevalence of failure. Twelve publishers rejected the Harry Potter novels although they turned out to be among the best-selling books of all time. Steve Jobs may be remembered as legendarily successful but he was kicked out of Apple. While standing for election in 1922, Winston Churchill was stricken with appendicitis. He did not only lose — he finished fourth in the election and later wrote: “I found myself without an office, without a seat, without a party and without an appendix.”

The conviction that failure is a step on the ladder and not a final destination is what makes for success. Weeping endures for the night but joy comes in the morning writes the Psalmist (30:5). Every striving life is strewn with mistakes, failures, difficulty and darkness. Our nobility is enduring each with the conviction that, as Emerson wrote: “I fail every day. Yet to victory am I born.”