What does it mean to be perfect? As the Christmas cards poured into and eventually overflowed my mailbox this year (the mail lady begrudgingly asked me if I knew everyone in the western hemisphere, as she once again put the mail wagon in park at the curb and made her way to my door with the things she couldn’t stuff in our regulation US mail box. I paid her off in a giant box of hazelnut fudge, so don’t feel too bad for her. We’re pals now.) I would stand and the kitchen counter, hoarding the Good Mail and loving tearing open the thick red, blue, green, and cream paper envelopes, hand addressed, calligraphied, stamped, labeled, whatevered… bringing the faces and tidings of loved ones the world over. Everyone picks their best faces for their cards— and every last one of them was perfect. Utterly perfect in all their beautiful, glorious imperfections.
For our own card, Bean was utterly uncooperative and refused to be in any photo without holding a giant stick, which for that day was his best friend. Don’t ask me. I don’t know. But my gloriously talented friend who makes magic with her camera had a stroke of brilliance when Bean refused to climb down from a giant tree in our front yard. Instead of fighting for some imagined ideal, she recognized the moment, and she had the rest of the family gather around the tree. She got a great shot. (that’s the picture at the bottom of the post that went out with our official Christmas card). But to me, even better than this ‘official’ shot twas this one… laden with story. I love the candid look on Jon’s face, and it’s the only photo where Bean is looking right at the camera- of course when almost no one else was, and we were all laughing. It’s us. Truly us.
So as I looked over the photos and greetings of my friends, I loved them for their humanity, for their humility, for the beauty of trying to get one, or two, or five, or nine kids to cooperate. For the emotions you can see in some faces, and the mussed cowlick that just wouldn’t lie down, the glares at a brother who just wouldn’t behave, and the resignation from the parents that, well, this is as good as it gets.
It’s true. “Perfect” such as it is, is a myth. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, as I navigate our still new family and the life it holds. Each day, it seems is a flux and flow of beauty, laughter, frustration, patience, silliness, stretching, tears, glee, anger, sorrow, elation- all in microcosms as we move through and around each other, defaulting to “love” and it’s various, changing expressions of what that might mean in any given moment.
It can be learning to stand up for oneself, and doing so with support of parents and siblings. It can be learning to trust one’s own intuition. It can be learning to calm oneself down, and to finally find the deep inner resources you didn’t know you had. It can be flinging cookie dough at your sister and laughing hysterically as you spill cookie sugar all over the table. It can be buying presents for your family for the first time with your own earnings and understanding the deep joy that comes from doing for others. It can be holding a trembling hand and wiping tears that just couldn’t stay inside any longer. It can be stating with exuberance that one has four brothers and sisters, without needing to explain or caveat. It can be using a whole roll of wrapping paper with your brothers and presenting your handiwork with pride. It can be holding a stick in family photos and everyone rolling with it. It can be giggling with a sister far past bedtime, illuminated by the purple tinsel Christmas tree you set up in your own bedroom. It can be reaching out in the darkness to find a near, familiar and ever ready hand to hold yours. It can be finding your own hands, your own self, ready and able to hold you up in ways you never imagined possible.
I don’t know what it is where you are, but I know with certainty that it’s there.
It’s all around you, all around me, all around each of us every day. We just have to notice. There is no perfect moment you have to strive for- you’re living in it today, right this moment, now. This day, this family, these people, near or far, this life, this… this is as good as it gets. Even if life is hard, there is still love, there are still sublime moments to be noticed, found, and paused for…this is perfection. Messy, scowling, earthy, sunlit, beautiful, stained with tears of both pain and joy- encompassing it all. Beautiful perfect imperfection.
Happy New Year.