The Power of Losing Positively

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“Into each life some rain must fall.” Do you recall when you first heard this time-honored adage? Recording artists from Ella Fitzgerald to the Ink Spots to Queen have crooned serenades featuring this famous phrase. It was referenced in Steve Martin’s movie “My Blue Heaven.” But the true source of this inspired wisdom harks back to the early America of the nineteenth century. For it was, in 1842 – undoubtedly on a dark and dreary day – that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow sat down at his desk and penned his classic poem “The Rainy Day.”

What might have moved Longfellow to write these words? Perhaps he still mourned the loss of his first wife Mary, who died in 1831. Maybe he had become despondent over his near decade long courtship of Frances, the woman who would eventually become his second wife. What ever the source, the expression packs power. It’s the kind of power the age of self-esteem appears to have zapped from recent generations.

I remember something my high school English teachers invariably uttered when the topic turned to poetry and the poets. “Poets,” they would say, “could not write great poems until life had pushed them to the greatest depths.” Only then could they muster the critical mass of catharsis to find the perfect words. These words not only revealed their true emotions, but they reached into our hearts and pulled out those very same feelings.

That’s power.

That’s the power of losing.

That’s the power of losing positively.

Losing, to paraphrase the great Marv Levy, reveals character. Sports represents the ideal cauldron to cook up this revelation.

We need look no further than the immediate aftermath of Super Bowl LII and the opening of the 2018 Winter Olympics. The New England Patriots, long accustomed to winning when mere mortals would yield, fell short on the final play of the game. Rather than shake the winning quarterback’s hand, the Patriots’ Tom Brady rudely walked past the Eagles’ Nick Foles. Could it be that Tom Brady received too many “participation” trophies when he was young?

Likewise, US Olympic speed skater Shani Davis apparently didn’t like the fact four-time Olympic luger Erin Hamlin won the coin toss to carry the American flag. The two received an equal number of votes for the honor. By tradition and prior-agreement, in the event of a tie, the winner would be chosen by a coin toss. Hamlin won. Davis complained. Had Davis possibly been so successful in his sport he believed he would never suffer the privilege of defeat?

Not that there’s anything wrong with winning or wanting to win. In fact, I’d rather my teammates believe they can win than be too willing to accept losing.

But when losing comes, one must accept it. For tomorrow is another day, another game, another season. And there’s always tomorrow.

In the moment when the loss is fresh, separate yourself from everything around you. Take advantage of that instant to look deep inside your heart. How do you feel? What does it mean to you? What are you willing to do to lift yourself from these depths.

Congratulations. You’ve now earned the capability to write poetry. You’ve discovered the beautiful serenity of the dark and dreary. You can now use it for the positive.

Only then can you fully appreciate Longfellow’s closing stanza to “The Rainy Day:”

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.


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