A beautiful thing is never perfect.
There is a pillow I’ve seen a few times that I want. It has a picture of the Eiffel Tower and it says, “My second home is in Paris.” If buying anything for myself was acceptable, I’d have brought that pillow a long time ago. You see, I have always had a love of France. I love the rolling hills, the romance, the beautiful castles, the cobbled lanes, the chocolate banana crepes. I even have a secret giddiness when I get ready to do battle with the French who are less than enthusiastic about yet another American invading their scenery. I secretly kind of admire the creative ways they come up with to steal my money (they cut a hole in the bottom of the sack of one of the chaperones that was with me when I went and stole the wallet while we were standing in a PACKED cathedral. That’s pretty brave and, well, almost funny). And I loved The Louvre. Granted, I couldn’t breathe in there, it was so hot, and I don’t understand why there was such a lack of seating available, but I saw truly beautiful works of art, even the Mona Lisa. I was particularly impressed, however, with Monet. He takes mere colors and makes them look like a memory. I couldn’t find fault with any of his works. In my heart of hearts, I kind of used to want to be a Monet painting. Though I feel ridiculous admitting it, I kind of still do.
When I was in high school, my mother bought me two expensive, beautiful journals with 500 pages of faded, yellowed, old, blank paper. The exterior of these journals were velvet. One was blue and the other, red. When I flipped open the books and thumbed the pages, there was that indescribable, dusty smell of old paper that I wish they could perfume. They were absolutely beautiful, and I fell in love with them on sight. I was so excited: the words in my books were going to be BOUND in the most beautiful way—AND they wouldn’t have to wait around thirty years to have that dusty, old-book smell! I wrote 1000 pages of the book, Light in the Harbor (not published….not typed, either) and, when I wrote the last word in the second journal, oh, I was heartbroken. I wanted more of those journals. They were beautiful and I felt like an author writing in them. Unfortunately, they must have been discontinued because we have searched for over ten years to find ones made in just the same way. I went back the other day and found the two I have, and began re-reading the story written in their pages. The books are lovely and I do wish I had ten more of them.
They were blank. They had no lines in them. My handwriting is atrocious. If you don’t believe me, take a good look at the cover of The Character—that scrawl is the handwritten pages of the book. Aren’t you glad you get to read the typed version? Generally, I actually take a small amount of pride in the fact that penmanship looks like it does. Whenever I’m asked to sign something, like a credit card receipt, I hand it back saying, ‘With my chicken scratch.’ . I like that it’s difficult to read because, when asked about it, I have an excellent excuse to call myself a writer. Unfortunately, however, when you combine atrocious penmanship with unlined paper, the result is nearly illegible slanted lines and reading slanted lines is difficult and annoying even with good penmanship. On the one hand, you could argue that if the journals had come with lines, that wouldn’t be a problem, and all would be well. But if the journal had lined paper, I wouldn’t have seen quite the amount of beauty in them because “real books” don’t have lines. Bottom line: they were no longer perfect, and I was the reason why. Even so, it’s my atrocious handwriting inside them, and the slanted words make up one of my stories. If you know anything about me, you know that I am a mother and a writer: stories are alive to me, they are meaningful, healing, comforting, motivating, important. Atrocious or not, the words are special and pretty because of what they represent. The books, then, are no longer perfect, but they are still beautiful.
A beautiful thing is never perfect.
I am in no way, shape or form a Monet painting. In fact, most of the time, I’m more like a…. I don’t know…. wire sculpture collage thingy that people in museums look at and go, “What is that?” No Monet here. In fact, I am a terrible perfectionist. I don’t come across as one. I don’t always look wonderful, I don’t always even look neat. Frankly, unless there’s snow on the ground, I’m barefoot and coatless by choice, because I do not have time to worry about clothes. I usually have at least a speck or two of paint or marker somewhere on my body, and I still have to consciously think before I know which foot is right and which one is left. People tell me all the time that I am so “calm” and that absolutely blows my mind because, inside, I don’t usually feel calm at all. Put a number in front of my face and I’m likely to stare at it blankly for a moment then burst out laughing at my own stupidity, having no clue what I’m supposed to do with it. I didn’t learn to do math well until I had to begin teaching it to my daughter. So, I don’t always project the perfectionist attitude—but it’s there.
Semantics, or “the best way” to say something, stress me out, since I know the power contained within words. On FaceBook, I can type a comment to a status, delete it, retype it, delete and retype it about a dozen times before I leave it alone. Honestly, it’s why I don’t comment often – because the process takes me for freakin ever. Every moment I spend with the girls is of the utmost importance: if I accept one too many phone calls while I’m supposed to be playing or if I don’t play in equal amounts with both of them, I can come unglued worrying about whether or not I’ve scarred them for life. I worried about the possibility of the girls remembering me more on the computer or the phone than actually with them, so I assigned myself ten minutes three times during the daytime to check emails and FaceBook; hence, most of my emails and updates are done at the same times every day. The first time my proof reader very politely suggested I look at something a little closer, I about frayed him alive—then I cried new oceans. I’m something of a control freak: I’d rather do the work of four people myself than delegate anything. Sometimes I micromanage when I don’t really have to.
The truth is, I have this deeply rooted, deeply serious, deeply buried belief that I have to be perfect in order to be loved—not only by the people I care about but even by God. Intellectually, I know that’s absurd. I mean, one of the most influential men in the Bible killed God’s people before coming around. Moses wasn’t perfect. Jonah wasn’t perfect. Abraham might have been pretty close, Mary might have been pretty close, but they weren’t perfect. They were human. And I know that Jesus said He hadn’t come to help the believers, but the unbelievers. I know all of this. But. Still, it’s there. It’s why I don’t relax. Life is about working hard to achieve the impossible; it’s about doing the tightrope dance, doing absolutely everything right so that everyone I love is pleased, and God feels justified in writing my name in His book. It’s like there’s this coat over me, this mask, and the mask is a happy one, it’s a good one, it’s the one everyone sees. It’s good with kids, it’s good at smiling, it’s good at creativity, it’s good at organizing, it’s fair at writing, it’s the peacemaker. It’s the mask people like. But beneath the mask is me, the woman that still feels rather uncomfortable at being called such because she often feels like she’s a girl playing at being a grown up. The real me is awkward, clumsy and often insecure. It’s the one who longs for validation, for a peer group, for reassurance. The real me longs for the opportunity to not be the leader but the one taken care of instead. The real me makes me sad so I think of all these things that might make the real me happy—and I do them, no matter how hard it might be, no matter how many hours I have to work or stay awake. How can I relax and “enjoy the moment” when , if I don’t do x, someone else will be affected? I’m not trying to impress people, I’m trying to be worthy of affection.
So, you see…
I am far from perfect. Sometimes, in my mind, that translates into, “you’re far from being loved.” It’s what I hear in the nightmares, it’s what I sense when I make a mistake, it’s the fear that doesn’t allow me to relax, it’s what makes me question whether every action I make is “right” or not. I can’t tell you how many times a time I think, “if they knew about the thoughts in my head, they’d call me crazy and leave.”
A beautiful thing is never perfect.
On a show I undoubtedly shouldn’t watch, Criminal Minds, there was a quote recently that said, “The most massive characters are the ones most deeply scarred.” There are parts of me that still think all my hidden scars are so ugly, so raw and so capable of making me so femininely emotional that they make all of me ugly. But.. Jesus Christ had holes in His hands when He rose. Before that, He was whipped, mocked, spit on, beaten. He was tired and He was hurt. And He wasn’t oblivious to that pain—He cried, He prayed for help. His body was just that: a human, imperfect body. He probably had countless scrapes and bruises as a boy, as a young man, as a thirty three year old man who had to carry the weight of a cross on His shoulders. And yet it’s His scars that make Him so amazingly beautiful. Mother Teresa’s father died when she was young and his death sent her family into financial distress before, as an eighteen year old girl, she left her family to become a nun. She would never again see her mother. Think about that. Think about how painful that must have been, how much she had to have missed them. Think about how burdened she probably felt when she met someone who looked at her with hope and respect and trust in their eyes. Mother Teresa was a woman. And she endured pain. And yet even her name calms me, that’s how massive a character she was. Four hours away from me, in Memphis, there is a special hospital where there are hundreds of children dying of cancer, but who are, right now, in the playroom, with masks on their faces and hats on their heads, smiling and playing with one another. They are small, they are sick, but they are beautiful. My mother’s whole life has been filled with one crisis after another and yet she is one of the strongest, most resilient and beautiful people I know. Testimonies are strong and powerful because they show us living proof that people can emerge intact from trauma and crisis. The people sharing the testimony are never perfect—almost always, their stories involve risky or even illegal behavior. They have made mistakes. And we are moved to tears while we listen to them because we understand the pain those mistakes caused them, and because we are proud of them for moving beyond the crisis to a place of safety and normalcy. Not perfect, but beautiful.
My greatest strength, I think, comes from my passionate and heartfelt care. I genuinely care about people. And I am convinced that children are the reason I was put here: to care for them, to teach them, to understand them , to love them. And I truly do. I want to know about their lives, and I want to be able to change frowns into smiles. I cannot walk past a child without being convinced she’s safe and happy. But grown ups are hard for me to walk past too. I’ve been known to do things like take homeless people into fast food shops to share a meal or to give strange people rides because it was raining and they were walking with children. It’s not that I lack common sense, it’s that I just can’t stand to see people in need; others’ happiness and well being quite simply come before mine. I don’t long to be a hero, but I do long for others with whom I come into contact o believe that someone, even if it’s just me, cared about them, because I know how much good such a belief can do.
A beautiful thing is never perfect.
… and maybe that includes me.