August 25, 2009

The farmer called us over to see the new water purifier he's putting in the barn. Its an ultraviolet unit that will sterilize the well water as it comes through the pipes. Since we've started processing milk in the barn kitchen, they've decided to upgrade the water system.

As he was explaining how ultra violet light kills single cell organisms, the farmer wondered how life on earth ever got started. If it began in an atmosphere that was thick with carbon dioxide and direct and reflected sunlight, how did those first single cells get a hold? Why did they live? How did life begin here, under our sterilizing sun?

Armed with wonder, my daughter and I set off to milk the goat. I sat filling the pail with luminescent frothy fresh milk, sunlight digested. My daughter stood in the barn door watching a mother duck and her clutch of chicks waddling through the pasture.

As I quietly worked, an answer hit me. Our world appears to be driven by imperfection. Change is driven by imperfection. Evolution is driven by imperfection. Imperfection is everywhere, inescapable. I had never noticed this obvious thing before. How could I have missed it? I have noticed how things can go awry, the futility of plans, brokenness. But I hadn't quite put this together with, for instance, the origins of life.

The farmer was passing through the barn, on his way up from feeding the pigs. I shouted out that I knew how life started. Life started because of imperfection. He smiled his quiet smile. And he said, “It is clear to me that God loves diversity.” He was way ahead of me, naturally.

There is a magnet on my sister's refrigerator. It says: “Peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.” Any homeschooler could tell you that trouble and hard work are found in plenty at home as well as in school. We are often accused of keeping our children home to shelter them from the real world. But of course, the real world is manifest everywhere, in all of its glorious imperfection. The trick is learning to navigate effectively.

One of the quickest ways to shut down possibility, to hinder growth, to limit curiosity, and to stultify creativity is to insist on perfection. I can't think of any single force which has exerted more limitation in my life or bred more anxiety for me than perfectionism. Yes, we want the water in the barn sterile. We want a few things done, in this life, as close to perfectly as possible. But why teach the children to strive for top grades and perfect execution? What a small lesson on which to dwell for as many long years as children spend in school. What a breathtakingly simplistic lesson. I can only think of a school system focused on perfectionist results as neurotic. But then, we won't find a perfect system anywhere, will we?

It gives me peace, then, to remember that imperfection can be interpreted as a foundational principle of life on earth. I hope I am preparing my children for our big messy complex imperfect world. If their destination is imperfection, the best way I can think to prepare them is to spend as much time as possible in this world together, practicing kindness, calm, regard, and wonder. All qualities which tend to open doors to possibility and a rich life. I want to nurture flexibility of thought, creative problem solving, free association. I want the children to evolve more than adhere. To try more than strive. To delight more than grind.


Sarah said...

"Our world appears to be driven by imperfection. Change is driven by imperfection. Evolution is driven by imperfection. Imperfection is everywhere, inescapable."

It's wabi sabi, my dear. (sorry, don't know how to hyperlink in comments)

Katherine said...

Alright, that's just cool. Thank you for that, Sarah.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There's a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
~Leonard Cohen

Melanie said...

THIS is why I am so glad you blog. You make me think and you make me feel and often that thinking makes me feel good.

Katherine said...

Melanie, that was a really nice thing to say. Thank you very much. : )