Melissa Frey is the Director of the URJ Kutz Camp. Following a program on owning your own story with Pam Schuller of Here.Now., she addressed our community with her reflections on failure and growth, and how the two go hand in hand.
A year ago this evening, I stood before our camp community, and offered the commencement address at our Failure Graduation. It opened with this line from Proverbs, “A righteous person falls down seven times, and then, gets up.” That night I shared my own narrative around failure, and how those experiences helped to make me into the person I am today. My remarks concluded with the following charge:
You are hereby authorized to screw up, bomb, or fail at one or more relationships, friendships, texts, exams, social media interactions, presentations, interviews, auditions, diets, extracurriculars, resolutions, or any other choices associated with life … and still be a totally worthy, utterly excellent, human being.
All these words I still hold to be true. And in reflecting on that program over the year, I’ve also come to realize that each time we fail is as important as every time we thrive. That challenges stretch us, and opportunities help us grow. That moving out of our comfort zone helps open a world of wonder and magic we likely couldn’t have imagined if we simply stayed put.
Perhaps most of all, as we navigate through each day – the twists and turns, the delights and fears, relationships, school, work, life, friends and family, through laughter and tears, in joy and in sorrow, every moment of every day is a gift. And, each experience we have is unique in the world because we are in it. Your experiences would not have been the same if you were not there. This would not have been the same if you were not here. I want you to think about owning this moment. Because it’s uniquely yours, and ours.
When we think about ownership, it’s often about possessions. I’d like to suggest we pivot and think about owning who we each are. It’s the journey we are each on that creates the narrative of our own lives. We make choices – some are good, some not so much. Regardless, we should own them. We engage in all kinds of relationships, and sometimes they fail. Growth comes from owning our part and learning from it. Sometimes we do things that make us in retrospect think, “why in the world did I do that”? Owning it builds character.
For years I have shared with our staff one of my core beliefs.
“Every person is the most important person in the world to someone. Maybe they know it, maybe they don’t. Treat each person with the highest levels of respect always. You never know when the next person you meet may become the most important person in the world to you.”
I do believe that statement to be true. And, I realize that this statement is about how we treat other people. I’m not so sure that I treat myself with that level of thoughtfulness, intentionality, inclusion, and love. Why is it that we are better at taking care of each other than we are taking care of ourselves? ‘Owning it’ is all about our relationship with our self. Perhaps the hardest thing to internalize, recognize, and actualize is knowing that who I am, who we are, in each moment, is exactly who we need.
I travel a lot for camp in the off-season. Last fall, on a flight to Israel, I watched and fell in love with the movie “The Shape of Water.” There is a quote at the end of the movie that deeply resonated with me.
“Unable to perceive the shape of you, I find you all around me. Your presence fills my eyes with your love, it humbles my heart, for you are everywhere.”
While the quote is about a love story between a human and an amphibious creature, these words resonate with me about the relationship between camp, and the humans who breathe life into it every summer. I live here during the year and watching the seasons change is breathtakingly beautiful. When we close the property around Thanksgiving, when the leaves fall from the trees, and sunshine is replaced with snowflakes, it’s quiet, serene, and tranquil. And, it’s just a physical space.
And that is when I feel you everywhere, all around me. I walk through the Beit Am and Arts Center and think about the programs that were inspiring and where you were able to shine. I hear your Shabbat evening Shir Hamalot and Birkat Hamazon and remind myself that it’s the only thing that sounds good in that dining hall. When I go to feed the turtles, I see you praying at the edge of Lake Rolyn, and know that while for some, daily tefilah here is a lot, that you would give anything to have one more moment in the Tron during the silent Amidah. I think about the passion that you brought to Jewish learning, and the pride I know you carried home from this sacred place. I’m able to look back at the lighter side of meetings in my office, trips to the emergency room, and my shpilkies about Trip Day. I think about your smiles, and your tears, and your kisses in the grove, and your pictures on Shabbat. And I think to myself, I hope they each know how important they are. I hope they know how much they are loved for exactly who they are.
Life can be really hard. We all have self-doubt. We all fail. We all make bad choices. We also each contribute to creating a more just and compassionate world. We share the best of ourselves with one another. And we strive to be the best versions of ourselves. And all these pieces happen when we own our journey – every aspect of it – the good and the bad, the joy and the grief, the smiles and the tears. It works when we own it.
So my blessing for each of us tonight is this –
For the times I totally mess up, get it wrong, or miss the mark,
Ani lo-kachat ach-rayut. I take responsibility.
For the moments I feel that I don’t belong in my own skin…
Ani nivra’a b’tzelem Elohim. I am created in the image of God.
For the days I feel broken, and wonder how the pieces will ever fit back together…
Ani shlemah. I am whole.
For the nights I look up at the stars and question my own place in the universe….
Ani sha-yechet. I belong.
For the moments of self-doubt, self-deprecation, or self-harm,
Ani re-u-yah. I am worthy.
For the roles and titles I have inherited and chosen…
Tzrichim oti. I am needed.
For all of my accomplishments and times I paved the way for others,
Ani asi-ti et zeh. I did this.
For the people I have chosen to surround myself with,
Ani m’vorachat. I am blessed.
For all of the goodness and all of the blessings,
Ani re-u-yah l’zeh. I deserve this.
For all I am, for all that I have ever been, for who I am in this moment, and who I strive to be,
Kabalah atzmit. I own it.