Saturday, May 18, 2013

Fallor ergo sum: I err, therefore I am

I was flattered to receive an invitation this weekend to a Christian men's retreat, known as Marked Men for Christ, in Spring City, Pa. It's a somewhat mysterious phenomenon – one participants describe with exclamations like, “I can't tell you anything about it. But you gotta be there!”

Well, I can't tell you anything about it, either. Because I never made it.

The buddy who invited me told me just a few things – the essentials. One, he stressed: don't be late. If you're late, you don't get in.

For whatever reason, the retreat started at 6 on a Friday evening. In a location you can't get to without driving through the megalopolis chaos of the Philadelphia suburbs. That's why I gave myself three hours for the  two-hour trip. It wasn't enough. My first screw-up. Then I got lost. Twice. OK, three times. But who's counting screw-ups?

If you ever want to feel completely and utterly powerless, get lost in the Philly 'burbs at 5 p.m. on a Friday. Crawling along in a strange landscape of roofless concrete tunnels, you eat car exhaust and stare at the clock, praying for a miracle that never comes.

I'll spare you most of the details. Apparently I was on some no-stops-allowed grand tour of eastern Pennsylvania, arranged by a demented tour guide. Exton. Pottstown. Malvern. Downingtown. Frazer. Blue Bell. Norristown. King of Prussia. West Chester. I did them all. (All except Spring City, that is.) A few, more than once. Dehydrated, exhausted and ready to have a breakdown, at one point I actually thought it would have been nice to be run over by a dump truck. I would have welcomed the opportunity to lay down.

I know what you're thinking. No GPS? Right. I was on the bike and the bike's not set up for it. I might be asking for that for my birthday this year. (That was a hint for Mrs. Emma.)

I shot another 20 minutes finding an exit to stop and call the guys, tell them where I was and ask if I should keep going. Any grace on the don't-be-late edict? They didn't answer their phones. I called the venue manager. He answered his phone. But he couldn't help. He wasn't at the venue. He was at his son's baseball game.

Praying for divine directional intervention, I re-re-reread my directions and got back in the saddle. After one final wrong turn, I was back in Philadelphia. At 6:45. On the Schuylkill. Smelling mufflers. Feeling dreadful, discouraged, disappointed, defeated and depressed. I threw in the towel and headed for home.

Since my prayer for finding the right route had gone unanswered, instead I asked for some lesson in all this.

After a few hours of dreamless sleep, it was answered, graphically. Over morning coffee, I discovered Kathryn Schulz, the Crazy Wrongness Lady, as she ruefully calls herself.

She taught me the phrase, fallor ergo sum. It's a quote from St. Augustine, paraphrased. It means, “I err, therefore I am.” He wrote it 1,200 years before RenĂ© Descartes penned his more famous “think” version.

Kathryn teaches a valuable lesson. To be human is to be wrong. Embrace it. Own it. Celebrate it.

Watch her TED Talk. It saved me from a weekend of negative energy, ill-spent in self-loathing. Instead, I'm embracing my fallibility. I'm grateful for getting home safe. And I'm celebrating the unexpected gift of a free Saturday.

I think I might transplant tomatoes. Hopefully I won't screw that up.

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