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The Upside of Failure

A fate worse than death can be the destiny of a lifetime

NOTE: This is not an excerpt, but a transcript of a clip of Duncan talking about a part of the 'story'

There is a followup Part 2 of this post -> here

Excerpt by: Duncan Stroud - Sep 04, 2015

There are some experiences worse than death ... and they are easy to identify. It is simply when the idea of dying is less painful than whatever it is you have to deal with.

Circumstances in our life can change in a heartbeat, and at any moment we can find ourselves faced with having to choose between two nightmare scenarios so horrible that the fear of death takes a backseat to the fear of the future.

I have found myself at that crossroad more that once, but of all those times one stands alone – an experience that was so difficult, so painful, that death would have been a welcome relief

I had recently been given a death sentence by my doctor who said I had about one year to live unless I came up with close to half a million dollars for the operation that could save me. At that same time I had just been sentenced to jail for a minimum of six months by family court due to my poverty that was brought on by unemployment and illness.

Were it not for my children, there would have been no crossroad, no decision to make. I would have simply died in prison. I was too ill to continue the battle, and too tired of living on nothing. Honestly, the food, shelter and isolation that prison life offered was not all that unattractive to me at this point in my life.

But I did have children, and they meant more to me than life itself. I would endure any fate for them, and it was for them that I chose not to die in a prison cell like a chained dog. It was my love for them that filled me with a level of determination that I alone would not have been able to realize.

At times like this, the boundary between courage and cowardice are blurred and one moves forward by the rage-stoked will. The path I chose was extremely risky and frightening with as equal a chance that I would still end up dead, but even in the worst case scenario, it would be better for my children, and that fact alone eclipsed all my doubts and fears.

My children and I were sitting in a booth at Denny's across the street from the upstate NY bus station from which I would be leaving soon. I explained my decision to them in a way their young minds might understand. I told them if I stayed I would die in jail, but if I left for Argentina I could get my heart surgery for free and, as a free man, fix our problems, so that we could once again have a future. I was lying to them. I knew there was very little chance I could get free heart surgery or fix my problems. I knew that I would most likely end up in one of Argentina's shallow public graves with an wooden white cross as my epitaph, but at least my children would remember me going down fighting.

I hid my tears so as not to reveal my pain, and I spoke to them with a tone of optimism and hope, so as not to reveal the truth. Even so, I could see they were frightened, and I could hear the terrifying screams in the silence that followed.

We walked slowly to my bus. I hugged them and told them I would see them soon. I took my seat. Through the tinted, scratched plastic windows I watched them standing alone in the parking lot. They were quiet and still, staring at nothing. They could not see me. As I watched I felt a pain so deep that it paralyzed me. I could not even cry. What I felt, I had no capacity to express.

Then the bus started to move, and as it pulled away I could feel my heart being torn out of me, as if it was refusing to leave them behind. I was left with an emptiness that was only filled with the fear that I would never see my children again and that this would be the last memory they would have of their father – escaping on a bus to disappear forever and die in some foreign land.

The bus was headed to NYC, passing through the squalor and cancerous blight that is Route 17 in northern NJ, the same ride I had taken hundreds of times before, after seeing my children on the weekends as I was permitted to. This time it was a tortuous ride through hell. I knew there would be a price to pay, but I had no idea how high that price would be. By the time the bus arrived in NYC I felt as empty as a corpse. I was alive, but something inside me was gone. I would remain in that zombie-like state for the next six months, my emptiness slowly filling with with pain, rage and fear.

Soon after, I arrived in a country I knew nothing about, with no money, no friends, no ability to speak Spanish, condemned by my country and possibly hated by my children. Aa new type of fear began to fill that emptiness: the fear one feels when one realizes they are alone and naked in an unforgiving jungle filled with predators. Every day, living in that very bad neighborhood of Buenos Aires, the idea of death was extremely attractive ... but some odd alchemical mixture of rage and love fueled my desire to fight regardless of the consequences. But time was not on my side. I lived in excruciating physical pain due to my worsening heart condition and was losing the ability to walk more than a few blocks, slowly, before I was too fatigued to continue. I resigned myself to the inevitable. My children’s memory of their father dying a free man, sick, but fighting to the bitter end … this was all I could leave them. The option of dying under those conditions made me very happy.

The clouds of doubt had turned my world into a very dark place. I was as powerless as a passenger on a runaway train about to fly off the tracks. I had exhausted every possibility I could think of and now I had no choice but to surrender to fate. I had to let go of everything I had wanted, worked for, hoped for. This was a supremely simple act that was incredibly difficult to perform. Only by being pushed to the edge of the cliff by a stampede of circumstances was I able to muster the courage to open my hand and drop the chains I so desperately clung to. At this point I realized something I had never truly realized before – absolute unquestionable faith. Not faith in a god or a destiny. Faith in myself, faith in Life. Faith that there are no ‘mistakes’, no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, that in every moment everything is exactly how it should be. It was a complete surrender to whatever was, and the transcendent ‘knowing’ that was perfect.

And then, a miracle happened. The army of circumstances I had been charging against became my allies as soon I turned around. The very things that were killing me turned into the my saving graces in a way that was as hilarious as it was unimaginable, and they led me down a road that not only saved my life, but also turned me into a millionaire. Of course, that’s the beginning of a very different and strange story.




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This was the intro video for the (now closed) crowd funding project.


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