Past perfect, present imperfect

On the perfect yellow rose
rested a dewdrop
as perfect as the rose
in every way.

It slid down the petal
with a most perfect grace,
then fell to the rich soil below,
content to find its place.

I will never be as perfect as the dewdrop,
yet in my awkward way, I have my grace,
and I shall be content, when that time comes
to fall gently, but with dignity, into my place.

From my journal, 1974.

This poem brings back memories. I recall typing it out as a homemade card for my dad for either his birthday or Father’s Day, weeks or months after I wrote it. Today I think a lot differently about perfection. Back then I secretly wanted perfect — perfect roses, perfect looks, perfect prospects, perfect romance. I envisioned a perfect future as an adult. A perfect home, a perfect family.

I’ve come to appreciate flaws, in nature and in people — in all the surprising ways things turn out. A perfect rose doesn’t exist, except in a hothouse, and I don’t want to live in a hothouse. No one has a perfect life. Such a life only exists in that trite phrase, happily ever after. Does anyone know what that means? Beauty? There are lots of unhappy beautiful people. Wealth? There are lots of unhappy wealthy people. A fairytale romance? We’ve seen where that got some real life princesses.

Today I find lopsided roses endearing. They’re more like me. I can identify. They’re more like everyone.

As for perfection in my work, in my actions, I’ve learned there are tradeoffs of time and energy and expected outcomes. I can negotiate with myself and decide when to stop and be content. There are points at which I know certain things are done. Maybe they’re perfect, maybe they’re not — but there’s no more to fix, adjust, edit, or tweak. It’s time to move along to the next thing. At that point the next thing becomes the now thing, and that’s most important.

But the sentiment expressed in the poem still applies, and I think a lot now, as I did when I struggled to decide what to do with my life, about one’s calling. We each have one, some purpose for being here. The thing is, it may remain a mystery all our lives, even as we fulfill it. Sometimes the really important things aren’t what we planned, sometimes we don’t even remember them, they’re just the after effects of our passage through others’ lives. The important things are more likely to happen behind us in positive ways if we’re kind than if we aren’t, if we appreciate others than if we don’t, if we’re forgiving rather than not. But we still may not know in this life what they were, how we made someone feel, or inspired them, or taught them.

I think we’re very lucky if we find a purpose we recognize and can be happy with, even if it doesn’t mean being a star, or rich, or having perfect teeth, or keeping one’s hair free of gray, or one’s hair altogether. I remember my mom once saying it would’ve been nice to have more money, but the most important thing one needed in abundance while raising kids was love. She left a lot of love in her wake.

Today I think that with all our flaws we’re glorious, spectacular. We shine, especially if we can accept our imperfections, even love them, and especially if we can love, forgive, and accept the flaws in others, and go on living each day as thoroughly, vibrantly, and full of wonder as possible.

Considering the peace that time has brought me, I wouldn’t be 18 again for anything.

But . . . if I had the body today that I was so dissatisfied with then, I’d be ecstatic. It’s true youth is wasted on the young. At least youthful bodies are. Damn it. (wink)

Copyright © 1974, 2007 Barbara W. Klaser

2 comments on “Past perfect, present imperfect

  1. Ken says:

    I seem to recall there was a short story that didn’t get published that incorporated a similar theme. I loved it!

  2. What a wonderful poem! Good thoughts here. We don’t have lots of money in our house but our cups overfloweth with love. That’s the best part about my family.

    I have also been heard to say the same thing you expressed about being 18. I love myself so much more now then I did then, you couldn’t pay me to go back!