Some of us love new things that are shiny, unblemished, and in ‘mint condition.’ We delight in the smell of a new car when you first step inside, sit down, and close the door. Freshly painted walls or newly installed ceramic tile or carpet make us smile with appreciation. A new pencil and an unused eraser tucked in a pencil holder on our desk amid other used ones is something to delight in.
My mother was someone who loved new things that were the latest invention. I recall her eagerness to get a new set of Melmac dinnerware when they were in vogue, setting aside her beautiful set of ‘depression glass dinnerware’ as out of fashion. Antiques were never her preference.
Some of us enjoy wandering through antique shops looking for that hidden treasure that isn’t blemish free, but shows the workmanship of years ago and evidence of being used and enjoyed. Some items to us are better if the paint is scuffed and chipped or a brass decoration is tarnished.
My parents had a dry sink that had seen a variety of uses since first purchased long before I was born. By the time I saw it, it was covered with a sickly green paint and sat in my parents’ garage where it was used for garden fertilizer and various small tools.
As we were clearing out the garage after my parents’ deaths, my husband planned to add it to a huge pile of things to be burned on what had been the garden. Despite its condition I was still fond of it since it was connected to some of my earliest memories and stopped that from happening. I saw some worth in it.
I contacted a former teacher friend of mine who did restorations and asked him to assess its worth. The figure he quoted astonished us. When I told him I would like him to refinish and restore it to its original condition, he said he would be glad to do so while noting it was valuable just as it was from the perspective of someone who knew more than we did about antiques.
Whatever our perspective about material items, we also make judgments about ourselves in physical appearance, skill level, gifting, and more.
Most of us want to look and be our best and would prefer others not see those parts of us (in any area) that are less so. The scars of our lives are too often devalued as things that diminish us somehow. We compare ourselves to others and our perspective on what we believe is their nearly perfect condition causes us to forget they are working as hard as everyone else to be seen as “having it all together.” We often don’t see what lays beneath what we see on the surface.
We intellectually know that perfection is not attainable, but there is much we don’t want showing (not unlike desiring not to see the edge of a slip below a hemline of some years ago).
But life happens to us all and illness, accidents, financial losses, moral failures, and more become a part of our story even though we would wish otherwise. When things come crashing in and we lose our footing, to whom do we turn then?
Paradoxically it is the person we know whose own life has been less than perfect, the person who may not have the newest car, the highest salaried position, or the most perfectly behaved children. Our perspective has altered. It’s this less than perfect person we are drawn to. This is the one to whom we are more apt to share our defeat rather than the person who has appeared flawless. This is the one whose nicks and dents have produced persistence and wisdom. This is the one who has something to offer us.
That contradiction may come because the person whose life is marred in some way can offer what the flawless person cannot. It is then we recognize the value of an imperfect life. It can speak to us as a flawless life seldom can.
“It’s those little nicks and dents and imperfections of spirit that allow us to flow out into a thirsty world. It’s our scars that allow us to relate to the scars of others, our suffering that connects us to others who suffer.”
Lisa Wingate inThe Language of the Sycamores