Sunday, October 24, 2010


Ed and I had a most enjoyable day with Caroline. We took her to her violin lesson, and in turn she accompanied us on our many errands in Bangor, since when we have to travel and hour and a half to get somewhere, we only make it every 2 weeks or so and tend to cram as much on our "to do" list there as we possibly can. After a pleasant lunch, the violin lesson, some boring (for her) shopping, we ended up at my favorite store, Jo-Ann Fabrics. I knew she would enjoy the store because it has a large craft section which included scrapbooking necessities, markers, art supplies, etc., and she loves that sort of thing. I told her to pick out a few inexpensive items and I would buy them for her.

She's always drawn to the paper. In rows of shelving, they have single squares of all kinds of scrapbooking paper - shiny, glitter paper of metallic colors - smooth, satiny papers in rich jewel tones - whimsical printed paper using all colors of the spectrum. Her first choice was satiny silver paper. When she showed it to me, I could immediately see the defect in it - a place where the coating had scratched off. I said, "Honey, pick another one. This has a defect." Caroline, who will always ask what a word means if she doesn't know it, looked up at me and said, "What's a defect?" My quick answer was, "It's something that's messed up, not right, and keeps something from being perfect." She chose another one without a blemish and we checked out.

Caroline was content, but I was not. I realized I had been uncomfortable teaching her that word. One reason was that defect is a very powerful word. It comes with a lot of baggage, and if you invite it in, it can end up staying with you your whole life and generally making a mess of things. Secondly, I don't like to teach Caroline new words of which I personally cannot explain the meaning adequately. What exactly is a defect? Why do we always want things (situations, appearances, things we create, relationships, public servants) to be perfect without flaw? And when we find one, is it a real flaw or just a defect in our eyes?

As my dad was a philatelist, I always love stamp stories in the news, and my favorite stories are the ones where the stamp with the defect ends up being worth lots of money. From this week's news:

A rare sheet of 10 stamps depicting Audrey Hepburn fetched euro430,000 ($606,000) at a charity auction in Berlin on Saturday, two-thirds of which will go to help educate children in sub-Saharan Africa.

The mint-condition sheet of 10 stamps featuring Hepburn, a coy smile on her face and a long, black cigarette holder dangling from her lips, brought a profitable outcome to a botched stamp series that should have been destroyed years ago — and evokes Hepburn's starring role in the 1963 thriller "Charade," in which the characters chase a set of rare stamps.

Some stamps have defects because a plane was printed upside down or some other such printing error. In this case, as her son said, "In the original photo, she's got sunglasses hanging from her mouth, but they had flipped the negative and replaced the glasses with the cigarette holder." In any case, there was an objection and the stamps were supposed to be destroyed with one sheet saved for the archives and another for a museum.

Nevertheless, some got away and were circulated. Now those few stamps are worth much, much more, because there's "something wrong, something unusual, something messed up, something rare."

My wish for society is that we take the lesson of the flawed stamps and apply it to our lives. I'm talking especially to perfectionists like me, whose eye focuses more on the flaw in the quilt (or my body or my husband or my job) than on what's right with it. In the end, the flaw might be what makes it priceless - but at least it makes it of this world, not perfect without blemish, but human. And human is not an insult, as in "I'm only human!" It is a compliment. It is what we are meant to be. It is a child of God. It is possibility. It is perfect in the sense that it is "whole." And our very existence is worth much, much more than we seem to think.

1 comment:

Cuidado said...

I love your essay on this topic. My own philosophy has been not only to accept, but to celebrate the imperfections and defects. We learn a lot from these 'flaws" that we would never learn any other way.