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Volume 37 Issue 21 • Sept 13 - 27, 2007
now in our 37th season

Accepting Rejection

by Robert P. Barsanti

Their assignment was to get a letter of recommendation.  It had to be typed; it had to be at least five hundred words; it had to be sealed in an envelope; and it had to be genuine.  A real, honest-to-God, package-it-up-and-send-it-to-the-admissions-office letter of recommendation that would be so good it could get Frank and Jesse James in on Hardship Scholarships.

And so they left.

So much of teaching involves asking kids to do impossible things.  If you ask them to build a solar powered steamship, memorize and recite Anglo Saxon love poetry or build a six-foot-long Viking Boat out of popsicle sticks, they will do it.  They will whine and cry and snivel to their parents about the stupid things their teacher asks them to do.  And in the end, three tough guys will stand in the back of the room looking stupid while the rest of the class brings in Viking Boats with oars, sails, and toothpick benches.

And so it was on Monday morning when Hoops McCann stayed after class. Hoops is on the five-year-plan, but he gets his homework in.  Hoops leaves school at eleven to go work roofing with his Dad.  Hoops has a parole officer who calls every Friday.   He tells me he brought his letter in.  He tells me it is from his mother.

She wrote a great letter.  She used details, told two nice stories about his help with his ailing grandparents, and relayed how he had turned his life around after he stopped hanging around with troublemakers.

I did the only thing I could do; I handed it back to him.

Rejection ruins us.  We put everything we have into our projects, whether it be composing a song, designing a house, or wooing a spouse.  Then, at our most vulnerable, when the fruits of our labors lay outstretched in front of us, you will get a very polite note explaining that this just isn’t right for us, but best of luck in the future.  It takes a very long time to sweep up the shards of that dream, dump them in the trash, and start again.

Hoops, myself, and the guys on the park benches all have ideas of who we are.  We are twenty pounds lighter, twenty I.Q. points higher, and just moments away from being rich beyond our wildest dreams.  Leave us alone with our coffee and danishes, and those dreams will wrap us up like a tarp, and we can sit their all day spending our fortunes.  

We’ll never be ruined.

But we’ll never accomplish anything either.  Dreams can’t die if they never live.  And since death hurts so much, perhaps its better if our dreams never live.  Imagine if you make it to an NFL training camp, then get cut and have to return home.  Imagine if you go out to Hollywood, and never even make even an ad.  Imagine if you apply to college, and don’t get in.  The shame of it would kill you.

In the words of Marianne Williamson, “Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us.”  If fear of rejection paralyzes us, then we accomplish nothing and our words will fork no lightning.  Hoops, for all that he is, cannot go beyond his father’s work or his mother’s good wishes.  To look for more is to risk more than rejection, it is to risk success.

I fear that Nantucket does not really want to risk success.  The bold and decisive act would change too much were it to succeed, and it would bring to much shame were it to fail.  The success would find itself in dry ground, grasping and growing in the dim light of criticism and  skepticism.  Instead, we creep through half steps and in the shadow of the rich amongst us.  The town doesn’t need to buy the open space or the Dreamland or the waterfront, a rich man will step forward.  Someone else will do what we dare not.

The other night, one of our selectmen sat downtown after the meeting and was ripped up and down by one of the benchsitters and shadowboxers.  Months earlier, another selectmen was ripped by the lickspittles on the opposite bench for approving the paving of a road.  Both men seemed to stand this onslaught of words and shadows with grace; they could accept rejection.

William Roche, David Joy, and Anna Gardner could “accept rejection.” They knew that their visions, whether of a pacifist and profitable business or an integrated school and community, would get rejected over and over by folks like Hoops and I who would rather play it safe with our dreams than risk it all on a puny reality.  Then, after decades of rejection, their puny reality became the world that we all lived in; their shadows became our lights.

I have been trying to teach my downloading dreamers and ipod isolationists to “accept rejection.”  Rejection only comes when you reach out, and it only hurts when you make an honest effort.  Their town is an island committed to nurturing and protecting them from harm.  In striking out, there is a risk that they will not be rejected, but will instead be accepted.  The dream will walk with us all.

Perhaps it sinks in.  Many of them came in with letters of recommendation from priests, teachers, coaches, and bosses.  We moved on.  From the perch of unassailable adolescence, one of his classmates asked me if I felt that if you “accepted rejection” you should also “Reject acceptance.”  If it keeps you off the bench with the cold and timid souls and puts you in the arena, you should.  He smiled and put his earphones back in.

Hoops has not been back.  Instead, he has been home, lying in bed, sick.  His mother answers my questions in monosyllables.  I may never see him again.  Or, I may see him downtown on a park bench wrapped up in failure and drinking a cup of coffee.

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