By Cathleen Elise Rossiter
“Perhaps, that is the way of friends, to love one another for their imperfections, not despite them.”
Yesterday, I was helping my neighbor carry in some bundles. We have been neighbors for several decades. Now, for various reasons, she is moving. Because she needs to move quickly and the house is not in the latest fashion, is smaller than standard houses today, and needs a bit of work (“You’re going to need to put $150,00 worth of upgrades into this house. No one will buy it with this paneling on the walls or these carpets. No one wants this stuff”), she had to accept an offer by an opportunist whose son will tear the house down and build a shiny, perfect new home from which he will profit handsomely.
I do not think that my neighbor realizes that someone she has trusted in other matters has taken advantage of her. With all the other things happening in her life right now, this realization would be too much to handle. This is the house that her beloved father built for his new bride on return from the Second World War, the one she grew up in, the one in which she faithfully cared for her 100-year-old mother. To think that someone would reduce it to a pile of scrap would devastate her fragile heart.
Perhaps it is strictly a cultural trait of those born to a nation who had to start from scratch in a strange and unfamiliar world, fighting hard to make a better life. Yet somehow, the trait that helped the inhabitants of the New World to survive by saving what was good about the past or their experiences and building on that has evolved – or rather devolved – into a spoiled whine that says, “I deserve to have everything given to me, brand new, in the latest trend with no imperfections. You owe me.”
What happened to the long-held American Dream of starting out modestly, working hard and saving wisely to earn each new acquisition? What happened to the sense of pride we used to hold in each of these hard-earned acquisitions? When did we start believing that it is O.K. to obtain our happiness at the expense of someone else? When did we start thinking that if something belonged to someone else it is no good; that we can’t build on everything they put into it, tweaking it to add our layer to the thing’s history – its story; that it has to be new and fresh and perfect in our eyes?
Imperfections enhance one’s beauty by highlighting one’s rareness. Repeatedly, writers, fashion designers, and others make similar statements:
- “There is a kind of beauty in imperfection.” – Conrad Hall
- “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.” – Francis Bacon
- “The more you mature, you realize that these imperfections make you more beautiful” – Beyoncé
- “Beauty is an attitude” – Estee Lauder
- “Things are beautiful if you love them.“ – Jean Anouilh
- “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”― Michelangelo Buonarroti
Our dissatisfaction and impatience with our own imperfections creates an urgency, a compulsion, to acquire perfection in our surroundings. By constantly striving for perfection, which we see as normality, we throw away the treasures hidden in the imperfections. We throw ourselves away when we treat imperfections as disposable because we are stating that there is no room for being imperfect, for flaws, or mistakes.
No one is perfect. Likewise with everything else that makes up this world in which we live. Finding ways to work with imperfections brings with it a sense of pride in having made it work. Learning to look for the beauty in our imperfections brings with it a sense of happiness, peace, and contentment that will surprise you.
A dear friend of mine is a collector of coins. Until I opened my mind and began truly to see the coin as a work of art, I was unable to see the exquisite detail and wonderful surprises in each coin. My friend has helped me to see that even the coins that appeared to be ugly because of discoloration (toning) hold a certain beauty that the shiny ones do not have. Although you can’t make it out in the photo above, the coin in the photo actually has a rainbow in it. The appearance of this traditional symbol of promise and hope is not possible on a coin that is perfectly polished and untarnished. In fact, untarnished coins either have been tampered with (which significantly reduces the coin’s value) or have never had a life. They have no history, no story.
Life is a beautiful mess of imperfections, mistakes, and flaws. When you come to the end of yours, wouldn’t you rather leave behind a history, a story instead of having been left in the box? Wouldn’t you rather have a rainbow in your pocket?