You know when something--an idea, a quote, a piece of art, a song--just hits you upside the head and maybe even upside the hart, and you just can't stop thinking about it? Even if you've heard it before the timing and circumstances in your life just bring it into full focus? In this way timing is like when I finally got contacts in high school. I didn't even know I needed contacts, but when I finally went and had my eyes checked and subsequently fitted for contacts I was like, What? This is what everyone else sees? Leaves? You can see individual leaves on the trees? You know, the world is just a little more clear. I think that's how timing works in our lives...we can see and hear things a hundred times, but when circumstances are just so, suddenly you're like, Oh. I get it now.
That was me last week when I read the following quote:
And now that you don't need to be perfect, you can be good.
I've been inhaling and exhaling that quote all week like clean, ocean air. The quote comes from Steinbeck's East of Eden. I read that book the year after I graduated from high school and I liked it. I still remember much of the plot and the fact that the James Dean movie by the same name is basically like the last 50 pages of a 600 page book and therefore totally inadequate. But seeing how I graduated 20 years ago--not a typo by the way, 20 years--a lot of the book has faded away, including the above quote and the context of said quote, but that's fine.
Closely related to this quote is another one that I heard a few years ago in a talk from a man who said, Beware of trying to become perfect, we don't even know what that looks like. I wrote about that talk in the context of Lamp as I was pregnant with that little bambino at the time and it really felt like an important message for this new life I was about to unwrap. That post still holds up for me. However, I also felt that it was a message for me to take to heart personally. There's a reason he said beware.. a warning should be attached to a word that is all to easily twisted.
And now that I don't need to be perfect, I can be good. Inhale. For me this has meant more compassion and less judgement. For others yes, but for myself too. See, trying to be perfect meant I couldn't concern myself with fragile, insignificant feelings when the truth needed to be heard and rules needed to be upheld. I've seen the tired movie cliche of the judgmental and hypocritical Christian who is so hell bent on doing the right thing they they are completely void of all mercy, rendering them the most unchristian of all. Yet having seen that cliche and rolled my eyes at that cliche, I still managed to be that cliche. A milder version yes, but still.
I do think honesty and rules should and do play a huge part of civilized society, just not at all costs. And of course it's this balancing act that is always the most difficult part. How do you exercise good judgement while not being judgmental? How do you teach without being preachy? Where do you draw the line between tolerance and anything goes? Like any addict, a perfection addict has some figuring out to do. How do I climb down the ledge of perfection while being good? In my tangled up mind being perfect was being good--they were one in the same. And in it's purest form I think that's true but for most of us a little knowledge, is more dangerous than no knowledge at all. Aiming for perfection before truly mastering good can have disastrous results.
So where do I start? Cussing. Damnit.
Half joking, half serious. Allowing for imperfections in myself and others is actually a good start. Recognizing and embracing humanity, seeing that I can be at once imperfect and good, has been rather healing. Like most attempts at correction I'm sure the pendulum will swing too far in the other direction before I settle back somewhere in the middle, but I'm getting there. If allowing for my imperfections makes me a little rougher around the edges, I think that's OK as long as eventually it makes me a little softer in the heart.
Anyone else feeling this quote and relate to the paradox of perfection and goodness? Care to share a quote/thought/philosophy that's been on your mind lately? I'd love to hear. Also, please don't tell me the context of the quote or the overall plot...I think it's time for a re-reading of East of Eden.