We are all vases with hairline cracks, quilts missing a few stitches. Our edges don’t quite match. We have pores, wrinkles, sags and gray strands. We are all capable of kindness and cruelty, childishness and magnamity.
I often berate myself for flaws, as do many people, I imagine. If I just tried hard enough, I could be the wise priestess, the good wife, the perfect artist or employee or (insert your noun here). But I fail. A night’s short sleep unravels my temper. Insecurities cloud a clear sky. The words pour from me like a river of gravel, not a handful of pearls. Best-laid plans and good intentions head out to the local tavern, while chance and circumstance team up to steal their wheels.
It’s good to strive for improvement, to dangle hesitant feet in the cool water, to push self-imposed limits on skill, intellect, competence. I’ve written about perseverance as a virtue, after all: try and try again.
But just as you temper hot steel with cold water, so you must temper perseverance with forgiveness. Perfection is a type of pride — a belief that we can embody the ideal, encompass it.
Perfection comes from a Latin term meaning “finished, brought to completion.” And there’s the rub. By the sheer virtue of living, we are never finished. When we die, yes, at least in this incarnation. And who is to say that we haven’t achieved perfection? Who holds the standard by which all others are measured?
The religious answer is, of course, the Gods, or God, or All-That-Is. And it’s not that they’re refusing to tell us, but that our understanding is, by necessity, limited by the boundaries of our existence as embodied, three dimensional beings.
I’ll close with the words of poet Mary Oliver, whose “Wild Geese” when sent to me by a friend when I was going through a tough time some years back. It expresses what I’m getting at better than my rambling musings do….
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.