On a recent beach trip, a day spent combing the beach for seashells with my daughter got me thinking about how I was showing her the world.
Taking my first steps into the hot sand of summer vacation, I do what I LOVE to do at the beach- collect seashells. It is a fascination I have held since childhood. For me, a beach isn’t a beach, if it doesn’t have shells.
I walk along the water line, scanning the sand, waiting for something to catch my eye. I pick up my find and inspect it carefully. If it is a perfect shell, I deposit in my pocket. Many times I’m disappointed to discover a shell I first thought was beautiful, was really, upon closer inspection, flawed. These shells I let fall back to the sand.
Trailing me down the beach, my 10-year old daughter is also enthralled with collecting seashells, but when she picks up a shell because it catches her eye, she keeps it. It may be broken or chipped, but if there is a part she loves, it’s a keeper.
On this day, as she had done many times before, she excitedly holds her latest find out in her sandy wet palm for me to inspect. “Isn’t this one perfect?!” she gushes. She awaits my approval. My instinct is to point out all the imperfections she’s missed. Doesn’t she see it isn’t perfect?
But this time, my heart stops my tongue. “Yes Sweet, it is beautiful.”
And off she runs, elated with her newest souvenir from the sea , and I am left wondering.
Why should I question or judge what she sees as beauty? Why should I point out the negative, when she is celebrating the positive? For the one part of her shell that glistens in the sun with wonderful colors or perhaps a delightful design, can I not look past the broken corner? Is this the way I view the world? Is this the way I am teaching her to see the world…herself… others?
The need for perfection, not accepting or loving things that are imperfect. ..perfect hair, perfect clothes, perfect grades, perfect house? Easily tossing aside things or people we see as flawed?
How about the drawing crumpled in frustration because it wasn’t perfect? Or the self loathing because her nose…her hair… her thighs… her weight…on any given day, aren’t perfect?
Hiding imperfections from others, creating a façade we only wish were real? Spending time and energy concealing or condemning our shortcomings instead of celebrating what makes us great?
What happened to applauding the things about us that “glisten in the sun?” For my daughter it is her beautiful butterfly stroke, her kindness to friends, her ability to sweep a kitchen floor like no other 10-year old I’ve ever met…Are they not worthy of celebrating because she isn’t the skilled artist she yearns to be, or she wishes for curls in her hair?
Is beauty irrelevant once flaws are uncovered?
Do you strive for perfection?
Do you like things perfect?
I don’t know that I have spent a lot of time thinking about how I would answer that question…but I probably spend too much time trying to make things “perfect. “ Perhaps my lens on the world, like my declining eyesight, has clouded over the years.
Maybe it is well-intentioned, yet misguided parenting, or perhaps it is a reflection of my own shortcomings.
Perfection is a funny thing. We strive for perfection, but when asked what qualities we think are important in ourselves and others, perfection isn’t on the list.
It is almost the contrary.
Perfection is a double-edged sword. We strive for it for ourselves, yet we distain it in others. We certainly don’t look for perfect friends. I contend we are drawn to people who seem “flawed”.
Do they make us feel better because our own shortcomings pale in comparison? Do they make us feel more accepted, less judged? Are they more relaxed, giving us the permission to show our true selves and admit we too are flawed? Or perhaps these friends have learned to appreciate the glow of their own light, rendering flaws unimportant and inconsequential?
These are all questions that will take some time to answer honestly.
For now, I have a big glass jar of our shells on my desk, ALL of them-hers and mine. It is a daily reminder from a young daughter to her mother.
It is a reminder to look for beauty in all things, and to practice acceptance of self and others, and to be content with and celebrate a less-than-perfect, yet wonderfully flawed life.
The Broken Seashell, now in print! Thank you Northside Women magazine for this beautiful spread.