Novelist James Joyce once said, “A man’s errors are his portals of discovery.” I don’t know about you, but I sure have made a lot of discoveries lately.
I was thinking about this early last week while walking across campus.
Normally this is not an eventful activity, but there are two key pieces of information I have withheld from you:
Key Piece No. 1: I was wearing my TOMS Shoes.
Key Piece No. 2: It had snowed a lot.
If you don’t know, TOMS are a specific brand of espadrille footwear that are made mostly of thin canvas, from which every pair sold another is given to a child in need of shoes.
Thin canvas shoes and snow-covered sidewalks are, as you can imagine, not exactly chocolate and peanut butter.
So I discovered, as James Joyce might say, that it is a mistake to not wear thick and insulated shoes directly after several inches of snow are dumped between your dorm room and your Life and Teachings of Jesus course.
In fact, anyone who has tried to read Joyces’ entire “Ulysses” probably knows a lot about making mistakes as well.
Of course I’m just kidding. Once upon a time I was an English major and read a portion of “Ulysses.” It was quite riveting: A man sat at the beach and silently contemplated philosophical issues for about 365 pages.
At least my shoes dried out eventually and life remained undamaged, which is almost more than I can say for the last major mistake—or should I say discovery?—that I had made.
It was early November and I was preparing to propose to my girlfriend, Hanna. (Before you have to ask, proposing was not the mistake. Just hold on for a few more paragraphs.)
I was getting the ring ready when the query of correct sizing came to mind: Just how much too big was it going to be?
As you can imagine, as a soon-to-be question popper I was reasonably nervous and recklessly determined to make sure the proposal was going to go exactly perfectly right. So instead of chancing that it might be too small, I decided to give Hanna the ring and then have it sized correctly later.
But I also hoped it would be small enough to wear around until she got it sized.
To figure this out, I—and for this I should be awarded 20 Bozo Points—imagined the difference between her hand and mine and then slipped the diamond ring onto my left ring finger.
It slid on easily. Then after admiring my hand for a few seconds pulled it off and….
You know that cold-sweat-and-lack-of-lung-capacity feeling you get when you realize that the midterm is a day earlier than you thought, or when you’ve accidentally left your child at the gas station 40 miles back?
Well I had that, with the additional notion of possibly having to amputate my finger.
What was I going to do? Keep my hand in my pocket until The Moment when I would kneel and present to her my left hand? (“I got you this ring, darling, but I think I’ll hold onto it for a while.”)
I spent the next several minutes—which seemed like the length of a back-to-back marathon of every algebra course I’ve ever taken plus both ACT exams—trying to pull the ring off without either bending the gold or knocking out a diamond.
I am happy to report the ring did eventually slide off without amputation. But the point is, it COULD have been a disastrous mistake. So I discovered that if you’re going to make a mistake, make one that is solvable for a small fee.
I made one of those mistakes several months ago in Oklahoma City, when I failed to realize the smoother-than-normal traffic was a result of naively passing through several toll booths in the PikePass lane.
And yet, amid the mistakes we all face there’s always a glimmer of intelligence.
Despite the broad assortment of mistakes I’ve managed to accomplish in my life, every once in a while I make a decision that actually has a happy ending. The troublesome diamond ring, for example, is now on the left hand of my best friend in the whole wide world.
Not to mention Oklahoma is $75 richer.