The little girl held up her coloring book. “Look, Mama!”
Purple swam across the page, only vaguely coloring the outline of the flower. The red of the sun jagged so sharply, it seemed to make the page bleed. Blue and brown had found their way into one petal and were mixed together so that the paper had torn under the wet, black stain.
The girl’s mother smiled. “It’s lovely. Does the flower have a leaf?”
Patience and Perfection
Perfection: the way to happiness
Have you ever met the perfectly happy man? The man who fears nothing, is never disturbed, and enjoys all things as they are meant to be enjoyed? Neither have I. Why not? Because neither of us has met the perfect man. Being good men is the way to happiness as men. So being perfect men would make us perfectly happy.
The journey to perfection
The word perfect comes from the Latin word, “perfectus” which means “completed” or “thoroughly done”. This indicates a process by which a task is finished step-by-step. A pool is not complete until that hole is paved and filled with water. A hamburger is not thoroughly done until all the pink bits are brown. Before we can be perfect, then, we must first become perfect.
Of course, before we become perfect, we must be imperfect. We usually try to ignore our imperfections because admitting them is painful. But no one is born perfect. We all have a lot of growing to do, a lot of mistakes to make. Through mistakes we learn, but only if we recognize them for what they are: mistakes. If we try to ignore them, we will only grow in our imperfections.
In this sense, the child in the story is imperfect. She is not the woman she will become, and she is not the artist she would like to be. But her mother did not point out that she colored outside the lines. She didn’t say the colors were wrong. Instead she told her one thing that was easy to fix. She encourages her child to keep working by making small corrections.
As the child grows, more will be required of her. But her mother is patient.
Patience: the perfection of the moment
Patience is the only way to perfection. “Patience” comes from the Latin verb “to suffer”. It is a willingness to bear something undesirable for a good cause. Patience can take a suffering and change it into a joy.
Neither the child nor the mother in the story above is pained. The child is happy with her level of artistry; she will work patiently until she can join the masters. Although the picture her daughter produced has no objective beauty, the mother will proudly display it on her fridge. Why? Because patience shows her that the art is a sign of attempt and potential. And now the flower has a leaf; the girl is growing.
Patience teaches that every step of the way to perfection is a perfection. We can be perfect in each moment by trying to achieve perfection with patience.
Compromising with imperfection
This idea of perfection in patience has so many implications in our lives. Sometimes it’s about making the best of the situation in front of us, no matter how far it is from the ideal. Sometimes it means compromising with imperfection, because one imperfection is closer to perfection than another.
We must not demand the highest perfection immediately. We are beings in time. Time is given to us so that we might change and find better ways to live. And the truth is, we see so many shortfalls even in the best among us. It’s gotten to the point when we as a society doubt anyone is really good at all.
Which brings me to this conclusion: we are not meant to be the highest standard for perfection. But we are supposed to strive for the best perfection in the moment: the journey towards a higher perfection. Taking that with patience is enough to keep us happy, for now.