Tag Archives: failure

The only good photo of his son

Following the suggestion of a friend, I’m adding an example to the previous challenge, of a small routine task going as wrong as can be. The story is sad and full of emotions, not really something I want to coldly dissect. Still I decided to post it, for two reasons:

One: I was looking for something to contrast the “my first post” example. The factors which contribute to the realisation of a certain result are always there, obvious or hidden, no matter how serious and important or silly and insignificant the outcome may seem.

Two: I think this story stands for situations most of us can relate to, where our personal failure causes pain, hurts someone else, and where we have no chance to make up for it in any way.

The story

A few years ago I was working in a small-town bookshop where apart from books we also sold office and art supplies, made photocopies and so on. One day a customer came in and asked if we could laminate a photo. Of course, I said, no problem.

The customer, a man in his late fifties perhaps, was very anxious about me not ruining the photo. While the machine was warming up he told me that recently his son had died, only twenty-and-some years old. The photo I was inserting in a laminating sleeve was the only good photo he had of him. He wanted it protected because he kept it with him in his wallet and took it out many times a day.

I felt so sorry for him… His talk wasn’t distracting me from the small task at hand, nor was I nervous, but the man’s emotions, his deep sadness had a strong impact on me. I wanted to give him exactly what he desired, a safeguard to his memories of his son as represented by the photo, and I wanted to do a perfect job.

Now, with laminating I don’t think I ever was concerned about the quality of the result, by default it turned out as it was supposed to. I knew which possible mistakes to avoid and in this case I even double-checked what I did.

Then the photo turned slightly sideways, got stuck and overheated; I never found out why, maybe one of the transporters didn’t catch on. All I could do was pull it back out and cut off the loose plastic, about halfway down the portrait at mouth height. It was beyond repair.

I was at a loss for words except for stammering “I’m so sorry” a few times. The man had tears in his eyes and couldn’t speak. He took the photo and walked out, bent, slowly, without strength to lift his feet, as if he had lost his son a second time. How did I feel? Guess…

If you’re not in the mood for an unemotional analysis, don’t read on…