Josh Irby

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True Grits 5: In which life is like grits

[box] This is part five of a seven part story on Grit called True Grits’ Guide to a Grittier and More Successful Life. I suggest you read part onetwothree, and four before continuing on. Make sure you join the discussion in the comments below.[/box]

The blood had dried to my palm and True Grits’ wisdom was a balm for my pain. The episode only minutes earlier in the saloon seemed a week away. I leaned forward on the bench with rapt expectation.

“Now we are on to the most important thing,” True Grits continued. “Grits.”



“If you’re gonna understand grit, you gotta understand grits.” By his face, you would think his statement was obvious. It was lost on me.

“Okay, okay. What does grit have to do with grits?”

“You eaten grits before?” True Grits asked.

“Of course, I am from the south. My mom made grits every Saturday.”

“Then you know how grits are made?”

“You take the dry grits and boil them in water. Oh, and you add lots of butter and salt.”

“That’s right. You ever eaten dried grits?”

“You mean, without cooking them? No. Well, sometimes, there are pockets of grits that are not cooked long enough. They taste horrible—crunchy and, well, gritty.”

“Like eatin’ dirt,” True Grits agreed. “So what transforms grits from crunchy dirt to a breakfast favorite?”

“Hot water, I guess.”

“Right. Now, you’re ready for the chuck wagon.” True Grits seemed to enjoy torturing me with these questions.

“Okay, so I am ready to cook, but what does this have to do with Grit and success?”

“How do you think the grits feel while you’re boilin’ ‘em?”

“I don’t know? I’ve never asked.” I felt the impatience rise up within me. “Maybe they like it? Maybe they’re sadistic? Or maybe it hurts so much that if you lean close you can hear their little gritty cries for help? But seriously, what does this have to with grit?”

True Grits exhaled. “How do you turn a greenhorn idealist into a hardened success? Hot water. I see it all the time. These kids come out of college full of ideas and solutions. Then they hit their first failure. They wilt like a city boy in the sun. They can’t handle the heat of failure.

“But, then, there are those who don’t run, who embrace the pain of failure. The hot water changes them. It softens them. It focuses them. They become somethin’ better.”

“So you’re saying that failure is a good thing?”

“You like grits don’t you?”

A dull pain began to form in my chest. How could failure be a good thing?  The hot ache grew and in it I could feel the failures of my past. Those failures I had fought to avoid still lived within me, buried and decaying.

I could hold it in no more. My eyes red, I wailed, “If failure is so good then why does it feel so much like death? If it is such a good thing, why do I feel like I am dying?”

True Grits just stared back. A full minute passed in silence.

My head dropped into my hands. “Yesterday I closed the door on my company. It was a lifelong dream. I put my whole soul into it. It failed. That’s why I came to find you. This failure is killing me.”

True Grits cleared his throat. “Is it? Sometimes what feels like death is really life bein’ born. What woman with child don’t feel like death has come when the day of birth arrives? She screams. She cries. She believes it’s the end of her. Then a life is born, all bloody and bruised. Failure is the birthing room of success.”

I lifted my face and locked eyes with True Grits, “How can I be sure you are right?”

“You can’t. Some failure does end in death. But more die from the pain of failure than failure itself. If you believe that failure is permanent, it can certainly take you out. But look back through history and you will find most successful people failed far more than they succeeded.”

I knew he was right. I had read biographies of great men—Abraham Lincoln’s election defeats, Henry Ford’s bankruptcy, Dr. Seuss’ rejection letters, Thomas Edison’s bad grades in school. But somehow, I couldn’t believe it was true for me.

“How do I know this failure won’t last forever?”

True Grits now spoke softly, “I imagine grits know they are made for somethin’ better than to crunch between somebody’s teeth. They know they are better than that. When the water starts to boil it hurts, but they know it may be a doorway to somethin’ better. And they are right.

“This failure is permanent if you believe you are a failure. But if you believe you are made for somethin’ better it will make you stronger.”

Suddenly, I heard a thud from the direction of the trap door. True Grits was on his feet and moving towards the corner when a blast shook the walls, sending dirt and splinters down the hallway. For the second time that day I was knocked to the ground.

My ears were ringing. I could see True Grits on his feet glancing around the corner towards the origin of the blast. He seemed to be shouting.

I moved towards him as my hearing returned.

“Ha, ha. How’d that taste?” Someone was yelling from down the corridor.

True Grits responded, “You can’t have him. You gotta kill me first!”

The voice called back, “Listen, you don’t have to die. Just walk away.”

“Not a chance, coward!”

“Okay, let’s talk this through like men. I will honor our pact if you honor yours.”

True Grits turned back and leaned against the wall.

“Is this guy going to stop?” I whispered. “What do we have to do to get him to leave us alone?”

True Grits turned away from me and shouted, “I’m coming out! If you break your word, I’ll bury you.”

And then he disappeared into the smoke.

[box] Questions for Discussion: When has failure made you stronger? How do you deal with failure?

Read the next chapter here. [/box]

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