Dear Mr. President,
I don't often fail. I say this not to be arrogant, but to highlight the safe and even calculated way I have lived up until now. I was consistently an A student, one of the valedictorians at my graduation. I haven't always gotten A's in college, but I've never failed anything important. This academic success is partially to my credit, but largely due to an avoidance of any courses too far outside my intellectual comfort zone. My life isn't where I want it to be; I haven't been as successful or as efficient as I would have preferred, and all of this is due not to failure but to living in fear of it. Today I believe I finally experienced failure. I could not access and apply a skill I should have. I set my mind to a task I could not accomplish. I don't think this is more unsettling to me because of my relatively safe existence up until now. Surely every one feels this way when they find themselves unable to rise to their own expectations. I'm lost, shaken up, disappointed, and angry. I'm also dimly aware that this might have been good for me. Realizing that failure isn't the end of the world, feeling it fully and intensely and still not giving up will help me take risks like this in the future. I knew taking that test yesterday was a risk, which is why it's taken me so long. It's been four years since I studied Arabic and it wasn't going to get any easier if I waited any longer. Every time I had to take a break from college, I felt more terrified that I would one day return only to find I was no longer qualified to continue. So I took a chance, the worst happened, and now I have to figure a way out.
If I had not taken the test I might not have numeric, quantifiable proof of my failure, but I would still be afraid. I would still be just as far away from my goal with nothing to spur me toward changing. Maybe this is all consolation for a feeling I'm still not entirely sure how to manage. Maybe I'm making excuses for my own mistakes, but at least I feel less afraid than I did yesterday.
I know one test might seem small compared to something like an election. I hope that the midterms aren't a failure for progressives. I am sure that, should the Democrats fail, this is how the story will be told. They were too far left. They were out of touch with the values of the American people. These lies will be spread by the right and accepted as conventional wisdom. And maybe it will finally push Democrats past their fear and force us to stand up and say enough. Because the Grand Old Party of hate and fear might be better at claiming victory, but Democrats haven't failed until they've gotten too afraid to stand up for what's right, for what's important. I hope none of the chatter about the left's impending failure scares those running for office in 2010 away from making the right choices, or scares you away from asking them to. And, should we lose power on election day, let it only compel us to be braver, to take more risks. Failing might not feel great, but it sure beats the hell out of living in fear.