Let's Celebrate our Imperfection

Do we always have to be perfect? Of course the answer is no. We can’t. It’s simply not possible. So why do we like to pretend that we can?

The other day, as I was heading down to the subway platform, I witnessed a woman slip on the stairs. She didn’t take a particularly nasty fall, but she had lost one of her shoes and was now perched precariously on the step next to me.

I did what I’m sure you would do. I steadied her elbow to help her stand and then retrieved her shoe and the few things that had fallen out of her bag. She muttered a quick thank you, and we both went on our way. Just another morning in the subway. No big deal.

But there was something about the interaction that bothered  me. I never saw her face. She never saw mine. Throughout the entire encounter her back was turned towards me, even when we exchanged our perfunctory thank you and you’re welcome.

I’m guessing that she was probably just embarrassed. Some part of her had concluded that it was less shameful to ignore a stranger offering assistance than to acknowledge that she had been, even for just that one moment, less than graceful. I’ve done the same thing myself. I remember sprinting away from a concerned good samaritan once when I was 8 months pregnant, knees gushing blood after tripping on a crack in the sidewalk, only stopping to let the tears come after I was safely out of sight and he couldn’t see my distress. How sad is that?

Wouldn’t we both have been better served if I could have acknowledged my frailty in that moment and accepted his help? I certainly could have used it. And I’m sure he would have left feeling really good about himself, as we all do when have an opportunity to show care and concern for others. It makes me sad that, like the woman the other morning, the need to be perfect, or at least maintain the appearance of perfection, can so easily override my more typical tendency to seek out connection.

And the funny thing is, who wants to be perfect, anyway? Not me. Isn’t it our imperfections that allow us to feel compassion and empathy for others? I’m sure some part of my instinct to spring to the aid of that woman in the subway is because I have fallen and I know what that feels like. Instead of shame and denial, I want to celebrate the fact that I am, that we are, every one of us, perfectly imperfect. That’s an important part of who we are as human beings.

So, in honor of that woman on the subway, wherever she may be, here is my practice for this week: at least once each day this week I will take a moment to love myself in all my imperfection, and joyfully embrace the fact that I am, after all, only human. When I catch myself doing something less than perfect I will respond with compassion, kindness and honesty, rather than reproach or shame. If (or should I say when) I trip on the stairs . . . If I spill my iced tea across my desk . . . If I  forget the name of someone I’ve met fourteen times . . . Who hasn’t done these things at least once or twice?

This week I resolve to give myself a break and celebrate my imperfection. And, just for good measure, I’ll celebrate yours too.

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