My little Ellie has started to use the word “perfect” lately, and it makes me uncomfortable.
She says it when she has worked hard to make a picture that she thinks is realistic.
“Nonni!”, she will call, “Look at my perfect polar bear!”
Now, Ellie is not quite four years old. While her artistic instincts are wonderful, her artistic realism is still somewhat lacking.
And so I hesitate to embrace the concept of “perfect.”
“Wow!” I always say, “That is a very original polar bear!”
Or a very interesting puppy. Or a wicked cool camping trip.
I just try to back off the whole idea of “perfect.” I have seen too many little children striving for “perfect” to ever feel at ease with either the phrase or the concept.
Art is, above all else, NOT perfect. Art is perception. It is emotion. It is my truth offered up to all of you. It is not a perfectly rendered reproduction; that would be a photograph.
And ‘perfect’ has even less meaning when it comes to the literary arts. What is a “perfect” story? A “perfect” poem? As a classroom teacher, I steered away from that word every day. As a parent, I used every possible synonym before I ever went with “perfect”.
As a Nonni, I am even more committed to making sure that my grandkids understand that perfection is a pointless goal. It can never be reached, but it can become a lifetime obsession.
So I rarely think in terms of perfection. I shudder, in fact, when I find myself falling into the lure of it’s siren call.
But guess what?
At the ripe old age of 63, on a day when I was fighting off a cold, cranky from lack of sleep, looking forward to my summer respite, I think I accidentally stumbled upon perfection.
It happened like this.
I was tired, dealing with a sore throat and achy muscles. Today was very warm and pretty muggy. I took my two little grandkids outside to play. My thought was to let them ride bikes and throw balls and I would sit in the shade and read The Grapes of Wrath.
But the kids had other ideas. They rode bikes across the lawn. They pulled up dandelions, blowing the seeds across the yard and screaming with joy. They used binoculars to find my giant rhododendron.
“Nonni!”, they crowed, “Watch! Look! Come play!”
I was pulled in to the vortex of their energy. Every little tiny thing in this beautiful spring time world is a miracle to them! And they shared it with me, oblivious to my fatigue.
Isn’t that wonderful? I had no choice but to become a part of their play, to become completely present in their little miracles.
We turned on the hose, and they raced across the muddy lawn, following “the stream that goes to the sea!”. They twirled, and jumped and threw up their arms in pure pleasure.
For them, these few moments were everything. They were the world. The cold water, the hot sun, the squishy, joyous feeling of mud between the toes. The yard became the universe. They were it’s center.
When they screamed out, “Nonni!!!! Jump in the mud!” they pulled me in to that moment of perfection.
And as I danced on the driveway, feeling the slippery mud between my toes, following the cold stream from the hose as it made its way across the pavement, I was surprised to hear this one word spoken inside my head.