Mistakes Are Life’s Lessons


I finally made the big 5-1. It’s no longer an abstract number located on the other side of the world. It’s not just around the corner anymore either. I’m 51 years old. Oh wow.

Now what?

Well, I’ve been looking into the rear view mirror of my life, doing inventory. It’s interesting.

Other than feeling older than Fred Flintstone, I like being 51. For example, how I’ve lived has taught me the important difference between what I want and what I don’t want. At my age, I can’t afford to waste my time chasing the wrong things. No, I don’t make the same old mistakes I did when I was younger; I make brand-new ones.

This is called “experience”.

Unfortunately, I’ve also lived long enough to see people make the same mistakes repeatedly without learning a damned thing.

It’s bad enough seeing someone who doesn’t learn from his or her mistakes, especially when it’s because of either stupidity or stubbornness. (Have you ever had a friend who always seems to pick abusive drug addicts as boyfriends?)

But it gets worse when the mistakes certain people make affect the rest of us. And lately, whenever I read a newspaper or watch TV, I’m seeing the same terrible mistakes that I remember from years ago.

No, Iraq isn’t Vietnam, but it’s another bad war that’s costing billions of dollars and too many innocent lives. Roe vs. Wade has become vulnerable again, bringing back awful memories of women bleeding to death from illegal abortions in small dirty rooms. Instead of bigots vilifying interracial relationships, it’s bigots turning gay couples into monsters.

It’s like a horror movie you’ve seen a hundred times being broadcast of every TV channel and you can’t turn it off.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. People can learn from their mistakes and help make this country a better place. People do change. I’ll tell you about a minor epiphany I had recently.

While visiting my sister in Virginia, my five-year-old nephew and I were watching an old Twilight Zone episode that starred Ossie Davis. Suddenly, he asked a question that I didn’t know how to answer.

“Uncle Darryl?” he asked, “What’s a Negro?”

While I clumsily tried to explain to my nephew what a racist and counterfeit label the word “Negro” was, I couldn’t stop smiling. I felt a light bulb floating over my head. Hey, I thought. The word doesn’t mean anything to him. It’s an antique. (By the way, I’ll know when I’m finally living in a colorblind society once the other “N-word” goes away forever.)

At that moment, I realized I was happy my nephew was living in an era where the courageous struggles of countless African-American men and women made living in America a better place for my nephew than it was for me, my parents and my grandparents.

And if I wasn’t 51, I wouldn’t have seen history being made.

From my experience, I’ve learned that the biggest mistake a person can make is not making the attempt at all, because if you’re afraid to make a mistake, you’ll never change. And I believe we can change, even though most of the time it’s a long, torturous process of ten steps forward, nine steps back. It’s worth it.

But let’s see if we can get through the mistakes some people in the White House are making right now. Since these guys never seem to learn from their mistakes, how about we don’t make the mistake of giving them the power to make mistakes in the first place?

And don’t ever believe that you can’t make a difference; it’s a mistake to think otherwise.

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