Nothing Fails More Than This
"I feel like... I feel like..."
The quiver in his voice, and the glistening surface of his eyes made the rest of his sentence unnecessary. Still, I wanted to see if he would say it himself.
"I feel like I've failed," he said, and looked at his hands. "Again."
He said it. It takes a certain sort of courage to admit to this to anybody, never mind a perfect stranger. We had met no more than five minutes before, when I checked in to the hostel room. He was slouched on his bed, lost in his own thoughts. "Are you okay?" I had asked. "I don't know," he had replied melancholically, and started to tell me his story.
He'd had an argument with the host on the farm where he was working, and she'd sent him packing. He had no money left, having spent his last 13€ on that room, and was surviving on some food his co-workers had donated.
"I don't know where I will stay," he'd said. "She told me there is a place in town where people-with-no-money can sleep." He didn't want to say homeless. "But it's so cold at night."
Homelessness is something that stalks you when you travel. What happens if I lose my income? you wonder each time a beggar makes a grab for your jeans. That could be you.
It is predominantely men who face this problem. I'd be willing to make a bet that a good 90% of the people at the place where people-with-no-money can sleep are men. Women have better support networks.
"I know I just have to get back up and keep fighting," he said. Keep fighting, I thought. A woman would have called for help. Why do we men make life so hard for ourselves?
I took a deep breath. "The thing about failure," I said, searching for words to describe what I had learnt from collecting countless bruises of my own, "is that if you don't fail, it's because you're not pushing your boundaries."
He lifted his head and paused. The words had hit home. I could almost feel his pulse rate quicken. He wasn't a failure, I was telling him.
"But I was wrong," he said, not quite accepting what I had said. "My parents were right. They knew I would run out of money; they knew you can't survive on people's gratitude."
"There is any point in dressing it up," I said. "You failed. But you didn't fail nearly as badly as if you'd stayed at your parent's house and done nothing."
"If you get out there and try, and fail, and try again, and fail again, why bother at all? I feel like everything will fail." I can recognise the truth when I see it. Depressed people, you'll find, are usually the ones that tell it.
"You're right," I said. I doubt he had expected me to agree with him. Probably, he was waiting for me to cheer him up again. But I wouldn't do him the disservice of lying to him in exchange for a moment of ignorant bliss. "Everything will fail. The world's biggest companies disappear in an instant. Hundreds of years of hard work and people's dreams simply cease to exist. But forget that. 99% of all species that existed on the planet have gone extinct. Humans will go extinct. It is not a question of if, it is a question of when. Our sun will die and the Universe will slowly grow cold. Everything fails."
"So what's the point?" he said.
I took another deep breath. Now there's a good question. "Well, the reason why I... live," I said slowly, not entirely sure how the sentence would finish myself, "is because I don't see the alternative as an option." This is true. I live because I can't kill myself. Humanity doesn't impress me, and nor does the Universe, although both intrigue me a great deal. But I wasn't actually talking about suicide. I had an image in my mind that was far worse. "For me," I continued, "the worst failure is sitting at home watching midday television. Everything fails, but nothing fails more than not doing what you believe in."
How could such a thought be so motivating?
My new friend was beginning to see where I was coming from. All of a sudden he started to throw other ideas at me. Ideas about society, money, survival, and happiness. He might have had the look of a homeless person in that moment, but he was a good thinker. It was exciting for me to see someone who was discovering new, difficult truths about humanity and laboriously folding them into his own world view. Now you can see why he was not a failure.
The next day, he rang his parents and broke down crying in the street. He told me about it when he reappeared at the hostel carrying two bags of groceries. His parents had 'forgotten' to tell him that his grandma had given him money. They transferred some into his account, and he was out of shit creek.
He and his parents were fighting a battle of ideals. My guess is they wanted to see him lose. It wasn't quite the victory they were hoping for though. He has acknowledged his parents ideal, but now he's even more motivated to find his own.Nothing Fails More Than This
Roger Keays is an artist, an engineer, and a student of life. Since he left Australia in 2009, he has been living as a digital nomad in over 40 different countries around the world. Roger is addicted to surfing. His other interests are music, psychology, languages, and finding good food. Click here to subscribe to his weekly blog, or stalk him on Facebook and Twitter.