On Mon­day, Chris Mori­ar­ty wrote about why she wrote The Inquisi­tor’s Appren­tice. She will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

So the tents have come down at Zuc­cot­ti Park. Occu­py­Wall Street is over. Or, as the more hope­ful would have it, it has mor­phed intoOc­cu­py Every­where. I hope they’re right. I hope Occu­py Wall Street does become Occu­py Every­where. I hopethe issues of the 99 per­cent become a focus of the upcom­ing Pres­i­den­tial­cam­paign. And I hope real, last­ing, mean­ing­ful change comes of this movement.

But just for a moment I’d like to look at the oth­er­side of the coin. 

I’d like to sing the prais­es of fail­ure. I’d like topoint out that fail­ure is in fact the uni­ver­sal fate of tru­ly trans­for­ma­tiveso­cial, polit­i­cal, or reli­gious move­ments. And I’d like to argue that grace­ful­fail­ure mat­ters just as much for rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies as it does for source code and­sus­pen­sion bridges.

Actu­al­ly, I’ve been think­ing about grace­ful fail­ureev­er since Sim­chat Torah. This year it fell just after the Occu­py Wall Street mar­chon Times Square. My hus­band and I were more spec­ta­tors than marchers, since wehad two sleepy kids in tow. But a few days lat­er when I looked at the bright­faces of the chil­dren gath­ered under the tent of the upraised prayer shawls,whispering about impor­tant things like choco­late while we grownups droned onover­head about death and cre­ation, I sud­den­ly remem­bered the faces I’d seen­stream­ing out of Times Square after the march. 

It was a very New York crowd: a crowd of every age­and col­or and social class. There was a radi­ant joy and hope in those faces­that is all too rare in Amer­i­ca today. And the sight of that great flood ofhu­man­i­ty stream­ing across Man­hat­tan remind­ed me pow­er­ful­ly of Mar­tin LutherK­ing Jr.’s prophet­ic words about jus­tice rolling down like a mighty river. 

Of course jus­tice nev­er did roll down like a mightyriv­er. If it had, the South­ern Pover­ty Law Center’s hate crime blog would be alot qui­eter than it is. And the sta­tis­tics on African-Amer­i­can chil­dren inpover­ty and African-Amer­i­can men in prison would not be source of nation­al­shame. The his­to­ry of trans­for­ma­tion­al pol­i­tics in Amer­i­ca is essen­tial­ly ales­son in fail­ing, fail­ing again, and fail­ing bet­ter. The late Howard Zin­nded­i­cat­ed much of his life to doc­u­ment­ing this his­to­ry. And more recent­ly twowon­der­ful books — John Nichols’s The S’Word: A Short His­to­ry of an Amer­i­can Tra­di­tion … Social­ism and James R.Green’s Death in the Hay­mar­ket: A Short­Sto­ry of Chica­go, the First Labor Move­ment, and the Bomb­ing that Divid­ed GildedAge Amer­i­ca – have doc­u­ment­ed this under­ground history. 

Mar­tin Luther King knew this his­to­ry. And he had atheologian’s grasp of the read­ings that waft over the heads of the chil­dren insy­n­a­gogues all over the world each Sim­chat Torah. King under­stood that fail­ureis the fate of all tru­ly trans­for­ma­tion­al social move­ments. If you read throughthe arc of his life and writ­ings, you see him always push­ing toward the nextgoal, peer­ing around the next bend in the road, remind­ing peo­ple that the­mo­ment you begin to reify a move­ment — to become infat­u­at­ed with suc­cess orpar­a­lyzed by the fear of fail­ure — you have start­ed the slow slide from­rev­o­lu­tion to insti­tu­tion, from trans­for­ma­tion to sta­tus quo. This was one ofhis great con­tri­bu­tions to Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, though it’s one that is a lothard­er to quan­ti­fy and cel­e­brate than his more tan­gi­ble successes.

Peo­ple like to tell fairy tales, of course. And as afan­ta­sy writer I’d be the last per­son to claim that fairy tales are mereescapism. Fan­ta­sy turns a mag­ic mir­ror on our world that can reveal­long-accept­ed injus­tices and inspire us to trans­form soci­ety in light of ourhigh­est ideals. But many fairy tales have an insid­i­ous lie at their hearts: the­p­romise of a hap­pi­ly ever after where con­flict and cor­rup­tion are ban­ished; the­p­romise that slay­ing drag­ons is a once-in-a-life­time event, some­thing you doright before sail­ing off to what James Thurber (tongue firm­ly in cheek asusu­al) called the blessed isles of Ever After.’

But in real life there are no blessed isles of Ever­After. In real life Moses dies in the desert. In real life Mar­tin Luther King,Jr. died just as he was begin­ning to take on the tru­ly intractable prob­lems ofso­cioe­co­nom­ic injus­tice in Amer­i­ca. In real life the promised land is always onthe oth­er side of the riv­er — and trans­for­ma­tive social move­ments are alwayscrushed or cor­rupt­ed, dilut­ed or deflect­ed, or sim­ply lost in the flood ofdai­ly trivia. 

So as we talk about what it means that the tentshave come down, we should remind our­selves that it was nev­er a ques­tion of whether Occu­py Wall Street would fail​.It was only a ques­tion of when. Occu­py­Wall Street will inevitably fail, just as all tru­ly rad­i­cal attempts attrans­for­ma­tion fail. But if it fails well,then it will have brought us to the bank of the riv­er. And it will have givenus the courage to learn from our fail­ure, turn back to the begin­ning of the­scroll, and risk every­thing once again in a new act of creation.

Like so much of the Jew­ish litur­gy, Sim­chat Torah isa rit­u­al that meets you wher­ev­er you are in life and seems to impart new wis­dom­from year to year. As a par­ent I see it main­ly as a time to give thanks for thegift of chil­dren and reaf­firm my com­mit­ment to their Jew­ish edu­ca­tion. But thisyear I was struck by the great gift that the rit­u­al gives to our chil­dren: the gift of teach­ing them that fail­ure is, if notex­act­ly sweet, then at least part of the life’s cycle and no more to be fearedthan any oth­er part. 

That’s not a gift most of us are very good at givin­gour chil­dren in real life. Don’t get me wrong; kids cer­tain­ly get plen­ty ofchances to watch their par­ents fail. But we rarely do it grace­ful­ly. Usu­al­ly welook around for some­one else to blame. Or we lie to our­selves — espe­cial­ly inthe realm of pol­i­tics — set­tling for the achiev­able com­pro­mise and then­re­act­ing with fury when any­one has the chutz­pah to remind us that we once hope­d­for big­ger and bet­ter things. Sim­chat Torah cuts through the denial, in the­most sim­ple and unsen­ti­men­tal way imaginable.

And so we sing our songs of hope and fail­ure. We put­up our tents even though we know they will be tak­en down. We tell our chil­dren­that the Torah is as sweet as hon­ey. We tell them about Moses dying in thedesert with­in sight of the promised land. And then we turn the scroll back tothe begin­ning, and we start a new year of strug­gle, and we hope we fail bet­ternext time.

Chris Mori­ar­ty’s most recent book, The Inquisi­tor’s Appren­tice, is now available.