Summer Stories Series: Saluting Imperfection
Nature had always been something I was fairly indifferent towards—huge trees, massive rocks, cool rivers, what’s the big deal? But on my recent trip to beautiful Yosemite National Park, my indifference was replaced with a newfound fascination. There was something this time that had been hidden before or that I had previously been ignoring. From afar, as I peered through the car windows, the landscape looked flawless. Every leafless tree looked perfectly placed among the other, more fruitful ones around it, and every cracked rock and eroded rock face looked airbrushed and immaculate.
There were colors I could see that made me understand where the inspiration for Pocahontas’s “Colors of the Wind” came from—colors that only the people who work at Crayola could name. I sat in awe, wondering how this beauty could be real. As I pondered the origins of the scene before me, the only explanation I could come up with for such perfection was that a divine artist had spent thousands of years creating these landscapes, trying to decide what looked best, and then finally settled on what I was looking at.
For millennia, nature has sent melting glaciers careening down the valleys of Yosemite, blown wind and spit rain on the rock faces of Half-Dome, and released animals to play in the forests of the mountains. These forces of nature are instruments—materials with which nature paints and carves and polishes the work of art that we call the world. And the artistry is unrelenting.
As I got closer to the place that from afar looked so pristine, it dawned on me that it was anything but. The ground was littered with tree stumps, broken branches, rock fragments, boulders, and sand—all tangible examples of nature’s mistakes. As I walked, hour after hour, I battled against the terrain and became grateful for the multitude of almost-sprained ankles that I managed to avoid. There were enormous fallen trees lying adjacent to their trunks. These trunks were glaring back at me with massive, sword-like splinters, daring me to come closer.
Nature’s mistakes were conspicuous, as if she refused to hide them. I got the sense that she was actually proud of her mistakes, that somehow her mistakes were just as glorious as her triumphs, if not more so. Everywhere I looked there was chaos—and it was magnificent.
I know a girl who once told me how much she liked it when beauty was described as having the power to “take your breath away.” Ignoring the irony that she routinely has that effect on me, as I took in everything around me, I felt my chest tighten up and my breathing stop. Alone, experiencing the type of solitude that only nature can provide, all I could hear was the wind howling and my thoughts racing. I would almost have preferred if I did not have to breathe, because when I did, my breath served only to interrupt the purest silence I’d ever heard.
In that most precious moment, I began to understand that the elegance of Yosemite came not as a result of perfection, but rather as a result of its antithesis. While some trees stood tall with all of their leaves, others were leafless, snapped, or burned. Some rocks were cracked, some had different color striations, and some were so polished by the glaciers that rubbed against them centuries ago that they shined like mirrors. Amidst this incredible combination of excellence and defectiveness, it still seemed like at least twice every mile I would chance upon the kind of view that would warrant a full orchestra symphony playing behind me.
Above all, the wilderness appeared to me to be a macrocosm of life. It should come as no surprise that our essence is often referred to as human nature because, like nature, it is our imperfections, not our flawlessness, that make us special, that make us beautiful. The intricacies reserved only for those who choose to see them give incredible allure to otherwise pedestrian things.
So this past 4th of July weekend, as we commemorated our forefathers and their ideals, I hope you remembered what was truly revolutionary about their clairvoyance—they recognized our inability to be perfect. In an effort to be patriotic, I urge you to be more appreciative of things that seem imperfect. If you see glaring flaws in yourself, understand that those flaws make you unique, and they distinguish you from everyone else, and that maybe (in fact, probably) there are others who find your flaws amazing. Recognize that part of the reason you love those closest to you is because they have that weird mole in a weird place, or that they have insecurities that only you know of, or that they have a stupid fear of birds that causes them to shriek when they see a blue jay.
Even when it comes to our government, or perhaps especially when it comes to our government, remember that it is an imperfect system run by imperfect people. That does not mean that perfection should not be the aim, but even in the paralyzed-by-partisanship state in which it finds itself, the democracy of the United States of America is still far superior to the other, more imperfect governments of the world, and maybe we should all relax our criticism.
For if we relinquish the improbable goal of having a perfect body or possessing an ego devoid of insecurity or legislating the perfect policy or being perfect at anything, then what we are left with is often something that is definitely not perfect, but that comes pretty damn close.