Triumph and Disaster

“If you can meet with triumph and disaster
and treat those two impostors just the same”
(Rudyar Kipling)

What if this is not a story of overcoming? A story about coming out stronger at the other end? A journey of self discovery, of a great revelation? What if there is no enlightenment, no epiphany at the end? Not even a hint of poetic justice here, something that brings some kind of consolation for all the pain and struggle.  What if this is a story about realizing one’s own shortcomings and not really becoming stronger or wiser? Just coming to terms with what you are? With your limitations, doubts and insecurities? Would it just plain boring, uneventful?  Is it less of a story? Would a reader feel that he / she is wasting his or her time, like catching by mistake the wrong bus home? Would he measure me through the extent of my failures? Judge me for not trying? Dismiss me for not being worthy? Think of me in terms of disaster, since there is no triumph?

Stories of overcoming are more plentiful in America than anywhere else in the world. The myth of the American dream pervades each one of them. Success stories are the prevalent language of Hollywood. Basketball players who overcome a history of losses and disasters, athletes who overcome their physical problems to become winners. Weak teams that rise from the ashes to be hailed as national heroes. Ordinary individuals who achieve popularity, profit or distinction.

Stories of immigrants who come to this country and face the tribulations of separation, the obstacles of a second language to become successful scientists, PhDs, medical doctors abound.

There is a glorification of these successful images that are proudly advertised everywhere, including stickers on your car. This is what is perpetuated in the media, in movies and fiction. And reaffirmed in stories we tell each other. Winners are exalted. There is no denying the positive impact these stories have in the American ethos. Many people believe they really can be successful, maybe even heroes, no matter the adversity they were born  into or they stumbled upon. It is a beautiful thing to see the fire of success burning in people’s eyes. It is true that if you can wholeheartedly believe in an idea, the idea can start to have a mind of its own and slowly but surely take place. With hard work, commitment and faith.

I’m afraid triumph has not happened to me in America.

But what if my story is different? That’s it make it less “American”? Less appealing?

I feel that success only happens outside me. It circles me, surrounds me. But I cannot reach it from within these walls. And yet I cannot bring myself to leave these walls.

It is true that my publications and academic engagements lend me a certain respectability and the idea of success but they also paradoxically paralyze me because they impose many restrictions.

I am frequently torn between going for it or simply accepting the fact that I’m not a “go-getter”, an “ass-kicker”. I am simply not an American badass. It is true that I have occasional bouts of energy – this is when, in my own terms, I still try to seek triumph. It is when I still believe that something can be done. That I can save myself and finally take the right road to success, and then things can happen almost like in Hollywood. I am split between a sense of deep insecurity and moments of pure arrogant superiority: I am bilingual, trilingual, they are not. I am a PhD, they are not. I am different, maybe more cultivated and more international than most. However, they communicate faster, are more articulate, have a an admirable sense of organization and pragmatism, an enviable community as well as that damned faith in success.

We can try as hard as we want, but we are all doomed to be what we are. We can deceive people – and ourselves – temporarily but not all the time. This is not to say that people don’t evolve or change but I confess that I have always been a little skeptical of magical transformations. Triumph is indeed an impostor and the many “losers” in this country are an irrefutable proof of it.

What if this me is someone who struggles and sometimes finds it difficult to go through the day. Someone who tries hard to find some sense of satisfaction in isolation. Communicating has become more difficult. Sometimes I feel that my voice is muffled and, when I do speak, the words come out in violent sputters, as if they had been suppressed for way too long and feel this crazy urge to exist.  Much like this post, I’m afraid.


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