Things are getting weird.
About a month ago, in a fit of frustration, I decided to indefinitely disable my Facebook account, but before I finally clicked that button, I mentioned to someone that I had an epiphany recently, one that I believed would change my life forever. At the risk of sounding a little overly dramatic, please bear with me while I explain.
I’m a nature-lover, and my wife and I love camping and hiking and bicycling. Basically, the outdoors is our living room. As I’ve observed nature, I remembered hearing others’ descriptions of the natural world in quite superlative terms: “purple mountains majesty”, and “God’s country” to name a couple. Every waterfall was a masterpiece, every mighty river a jewel eclipsed by nothing man could ever render. And it just goes on and on. But seeing a mountain in the hazy distance with a lake in the foreground might be enough for some people to start believing in God if they never had any inclination to do so previously. God, I’m sure, appreciates the compliment.
When you look outside your window any summer day, you will probably see God’s handiwork in yours or your neighbor’s garden. But that’s not nature, that’s human activity imposed on nature to make it more pleasing to our eye. Gardening is synthetic. Nature is wild and unkempt. But, on your cultivated rose, you will notice a butterfly, quite a wild thing. It emerged from its cocoon and is now a mature insect preparing to lay eggs for a new generation of caterpillars that will devour your garden. But looking at that butterfly outside your window, you say to yourself, “it’s perfect.”
“Perfect”, we say of butterflies and oak trees and wildflowers and horses. We say that nature is perfect, even though we recognize the imperfections, and we do not label them as flaws. A crack in a rock is not a flaw, but a subtle deviation from its otherwise regular surface. A four-leaf clover is a mutant, a freak. But we don’t label it as such. To us, it brings good luck and a reminder of our youth. Perfect is in the eye of the beholder. Imperfection and defect are as well. We humans are the only critics of our being. Do we imagine that a horse or a dog has any opinion or judgement on our existence? We sure are quick to judge ourselves and others. This is the entire rationale behind fashion magazines and beauty pageants. It also explains a lot of literary characters like Quasimodo, Boo Radley, Don Quixote. From one perspective we can say these characters are flawed. Quasimodo, in Victor Hugo’s “Hunchback” was physically flawed, being born with a disfigured face and body, and being deaf. Radley was a recluse, and rumours of his past swirled around him to a point that people believed he was a monster. And Quixote was simply a neurotic fool (but I certainly identify with him).
When we look at ourselves in the mirror we find fault with almost everything we see. I see that my gut sticks out too much. Others might not like the shape of their ass. Still others will see imperfections with their hair, the size of their nose, or anything else that actually makes us truly unique. But we are not satisfied, and so we shake our heads in disgust. Such is to be human. After all, as it is said, nobody is perfect.
But why can we declare that a tree is perfect? Or a butterfly? Or a rainbow? Surely there are discernable differences among all the butterflies in the world. Can it be that every one of them is perfect? On what can we base this claim, by the way? Under a microscope, I’m sure we could find some flaws. Maybe we don’t have to look that far. Walking through a forest in the Smoky Mountains last year, I found a tree that had been struck by lightning long before, and as a result, it was growing askew, with some branches stunted form the trauma. Perfect? Why not? I mean, the lightning strike was a one in a million chance, perfection from a sports perspective. The best golfer in the world couldn’t manage to hit a target like that. But we don’t call it perfect, but some might recognize beauty in it. And so it is with us.
I know some deeply flawed people. I am one of them. But no one would declare us perfect. Why? Because we hold ourselves to an impossible standard, looking to television or movie stars, supermodels or pop stars. We have defined the “perfect” body. And music gurus recognize “perfect pitch”. Perfect images, perfect sounds, perfect days. Nobody’s perfect? I’m not so sure.
What if you could be perfect? What if you already were? My Roman Catholic upbringing tells me perfection is not mine to possess in this life. I was tought that I would have a perfect “glorified” body in the afterlife. I doubt that. But I do believe in something beyond this life, this world, this dimension. But why can we not be perfect here and now? What is perfection? If we live by the teachings of all the great prophets and Jesus and Siddhartha Gautama and others, can we achieve perfection as prescribed in their words? Is that what perfection is?
Maybe we are already perfect. Maybe we are like the butterfly outside your window, like no other, but just as beautiful. If perfection is simply a state of being satisfied in one’s own skin, that could be fairly simple. This is easier said than done, however. But who is anyone to judge? I’m not sure if we are even qualified to judge ourselves. Is the voice of Karen Carpenter any more or less perfect than that of Joe Cocker? Is Van Gogh’s “Terrace of a café at night” any more or less perfect? Van Gogh was flawed, by some judgements, but we regard his creations and others like them as the best examples of what humans are capable of. You know. Perfect.
I think we can be as perfect as anything else. We’re unnecessarily hard on ourselves. We deserve a break, but don’t slack off. You have a lot of work to do.
Next time, we’ll discuss how none of us is really free.