Calm column: Life is perfect, except…

Nothing in life is perfect. How many times have we heard that? And yet, we continue seeking perfection: in ourselves, in others, in our home, in work and leisure activities. We know perfection is unattainable, yet we find imperfection unacceptable. Sadly, this can result in a lifetime of disappointment.

We often tie certain phrases (“except,” “if only” or “at least”) to the word “perfect”—phrases that actually prevent us from feeling content. It would have been a perfect vacation, we say, except that it rained. I would feel good about myself, if only I could lose 20 pounds. My house would be perfect if it had at least one more bathroom.

I have found that I’m not happy when I’m obsessed with “not good enough.” I finally decided to change my definition of perfection. I try to avoid saying “except,” “if only” and “at least.” It was a wonderful vacation. Period. I appreciate myself, just as I am. Period. My house is great. Period.

Hanging on to our perceived failings, or those of others, keeps our attention on what’s wrong, instead of what’s right. If we can settle for “all is well,” or see our life as “just fine,” even though things are not what we consider perfect, we open ourselves to true contentment. Not only that, but sometimes those so-called “imperfect” situations contain more life and bring us more joy than perfection ever could.

I once read about a tiger that gave birth to triplet cubs — a rare occurrence. Unfortunately, because they were premature, the babies died shortly after birth. The mama was bereft; she became depressed. Zoo officials tried in vain to find some orphaned cubs for her to adopt. Finally, in desperation, they put tiger skin vests on several piglets and introduced them to the grieving mother.

Mama Tiger took to them immediately, letting them nurse, protecting them, teaching them to be good little tigers. Though creative, this solution to the loss of the tiger cubs was certainly less than perfect. Perfect would have been for the cubs to live, or for the mama to become a foster mom to other babies of her own species.

But isn’t there perfection in imperfection? Doesn’t the juxtaposition of those silly-looking baby “tigers” with their new mommy make us smile? And doesn’t it work, somehow, as a solution? Ms. Tiger certainly thought so! If everything had remained “perfect,” we’d never have been treated to the spectacle of piglets in tiger skin vests cuddling up to a mother tiger. What was so touching about the story was that an illogical, seemingly imperfect solution turned out to be… perfect.

Here’s another example. I love old trees. I am fascinated by their crooked limbs and gnarled roots. Recently, while walking in a park near dusk, a friend and I enjoyed seeing how much the bumps and swirls in a tree resembled animals nestled in the branches. A couple of holes looked like owl eyes; another curved part resembled a squirrel. If the tree had been what many would consider “perfect,” we wouldn’t have gotten to see all those fanciful creatures.

How about our own aging process? Can it possibly contain perfection? How ridiculous, we say to ourselves. Isn’t the process of growing older a negative, a departure from whatever perfection we saw in our bodies and minds in our younger days? It certainly seems so, but maybe that’s just a surface way of viewing ourselves. Wrinkles, saggy skin and gray hair can be badges of honor because, if we keep learning and growing throughout our lives, we trade youth for wisdom. Isn’t that, in its way, perfect?

Did you ever contemplate the process that creates an exquisite, natural pearl? These glowing, magical gems are formed when a parasite, a grain of sand or other irritant finds its way into a pearl oyster. The oyster reacts by coating the irritant with layer upon layer of a pearly substance, creating from it a lovely gem, prized for its unique, iridescent beauty.

Bottom line: since nothing is perfect, we may as well be thankful for the imperfections and quirks that make up our everyday lives. Isn’t that easier than striving for the impossible? Life is imperfect, often untidy, sometimes maddening, but always interesting.

What could be more perfect than that?

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Kathy Baker is a writer and speaker, a messenger of encouragement who loves to touch hearts and tickle souls with her work. She is the author of “Leaving Adversity Plaza,” and “A Tale of Three Choices: His, Hers, Mine.” She loves hearing from her readers and can be reached at [email protected].