I want to be perfect. There, I’ve said it. I’m striving for absolute perfection and nothing else will do.
I want to be the perfect mother. I want to be the perfect friend. I want to have a perfect home; a perfect figure; perfect health. And in all these areas I find myself lacking. I feed my kids too much processed food. I can’t always give my friends the time and attention they deserve. My front garden is in a horrific mess; I hate my legs and stomach; I can’t make my own antibodies. I am so far from perfection it’s laughable.
Probably I spend too much time dwelling on my imperfections. I have a hard time with the idea that I make mistakes. I worry that men who find me attractive do so because there is something wrong with them. I feel sure that the choices I make for my children are the wrong ones. And I invest an awful lot of time and energy thinking about how I can be better, thinner, kinder, smarter, braver, shrewder; how I can be more patient, more insightful, more confident, more fashionable … the list goes on. But try as I might, I know that I am unlikely to achieve most of these things – at least not to a degree that will make me happy. And so I know I must learn to live with and accept my imperfections.
Yesterday, though, I was in synagogue for a barmitzvah and I listened to a reading I had never heard before. It was a Parable of the Preacher of Dubno (no, I’ve never heard of him either) and it went like this:
“Once there was a king, who had a beautiful, large pure diamond. There was no other diamond like it in the world. One day, it became deeply scratched. The king called his best diamond cutters, “I’ll promise you a great reward if you can remove the imperfection from my jewel.” But they could not. The king was very upset.
Many months later, a man came to the king. He promised to make the diamond even more beautiful than it ever had been. Impressed by the man’s confidence, the king consented. He watched as the man engraved an exquisite rosebud around the blemish and used the scratch to make its stem.”
The king saw the diamond’s scratch in much the same way that I see my own shortcomings. Just like me, the king sought perfection, and believed the only way to achieve it was to remove any imperfection he could see. And just like me, the king felt saddened when this seemed an impossible feat. But this is where the similarities end … whereas I want to accept my imperfections, the man in the story has gone much further. He has embraced the diamond’s imperfections as being crucial to its absolute beauty. Without the scratch the diamond was perfect on a superficial level, but actually had nothing to make it truly special. It was only when the man had the wisdom to view the scratch through different eyes that the diamond’s imperfection became its true beauty.
So can I do that? Really? Can I learn to not only accept my imperfections but to embrace them? It’s a tall order: what I am proposing means truly believing that my beauty comes from my messy house, my lack of confidence, my offbeat sense of humour, my wobbly stomach, my frizzy hair, my heart-on-my-sleeve attitude, my deepest fears and insecurities. It doesn’t mean telling myself that I can be perfect in spite of these things. It means knowing I am perfect because of them.