Wernher von Braun was upset that his Army rocketry group wasn’t allowed to launch an earth orbiting satellite with their Jupiter C rocket. Instead, the government bet on a Navy and civilian project, the Vanguard, a project that looked more “All-American.”
After the Vanguard failed, the Soviets launched Sputnik, becoming the first in space and changing the views of the world. This opened the way for Von Braun’s Juno I to be the first American rocket to launch an orbital satellite.
At the time, von Braun was upset. They had been beaten by the USSR because of political investment in face.
In the end, though, that loss lead to von Braun’s biggest win. Because the US needed to recover dominance, President Kennedy committed to send a mission to the moon and Von Braun got to build the Saturn V, arguably the most powerful launch vehicle ever created.
What looked like a massive loss for von Braun, an overwhelming failure, laid the seeds for his greatest triumph. This was impossible to see at the time, of course.
It’s really hard to remember at the time that loss often carries the seeds of much greater victory inside of it. Rebirth requires death, so until you can break though at one level, by failing and learning where change is needed, you can’t move on to better.
Suggesting that failure can be a good thing often brings a response of indignity and disgust. We fight so hard to be perfect, to achieve what we believe we want, that failure is seen as a crushing blow to our ego and our standing, not as an opportunity for reflection and growth.
Looking back, though, we often can see how our most painful failures created fertile ground for new successes, as impossible as that seems at first glance.
That doesn’t mean we find it easy to talk about the possibility of transcendence while in the midst of dealing with loss. The traditions around loss involve bemoaning it not finding ways to find a miracle in it. Instead of looking for possibility, we look to find something or someone to blame, focusing our anger away from our own need for growth.
Smashing our hopes opens up our view of reality, moving us from the dreamy to the possible, at least a little bit. We see where work is still needed, understand what is too far a reach, at least for today, are able to redirect our efforts in a more specific way.
We can’t do, that, though, as long as we stay stunned by the smash, raging over fault and insisting that everything has to go our way. If we are only able to accept gifts packaged the way we want them wrapped, we can’t value the surprising gifts that just come to us out of the sky.
Loss is loss and it will always touch us. It can shatter our expectations and break our heart.
In that loss, though, in the way it opens our eyes moves us beyond impossible hopes, often lies the seeds of more and better success.
Is it hard to say “Amen” to loss, hard to be grateful for what we see as defeat, hard to accept that pain can lead to promise? Sure.
But when we put our life in context, building a reflective understanding, we can know that often loss is for the best, redirecting us and opening new pathways to success.
Thank you, God, for my life and for my losses. Thank you for teaching me not to be so stubborn and resistant, for opening me beyond my petty expectations and fears. Thank you for breaking my heart and my dreams.