Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Value of Imperfection



It happened to me again today as I was making dinner. That same old feeling- tonight as I tried to arrange slices of turnip into a pie plate; I became frustrated at the odd shape of the vegetable. Yes, really.  Very, very frustrated, in fact. Thanks to the differing sizes of the turnips I'd used, they simply weren't aligning to create the pattern I wanted, but instead were overlapping and creating *gasp* second layers in some places! Some were too big, some too small, some were irregular because I'd peeled to much skin away...or not enough. "Stupid vegetables," it began in my head, "why don't you just do what I want?! It's not hard, and I'm not asking for much. Just size yourselves up right so that I can make one layer of turnip in the bottom of my pie plate!" Do I sound crazy yet? Just wait- it gets better.

This line of turnip-related-coup-thought naturally gave way to a much more sinister thought pattern, of the "How I Never Get What I Want" variety. Ever been there? It's a real peach of a place to visit. A place which rockets you from a slight sense of disappointment because dinner isn't going to be as pretty as you'd imagined, to self talk convincing enough to ensure that you never attempt to cook dinner again lest the result be a similar abysmal failure. Yes, it's embarrassing but true...and it's so easy to get there.

Thankfully though, the gods of reason intervened on my behalf. Maybe it's been the ridiculous number of self-help books I've been reading lately, or the quiet coaching from my husband, or perhaps it's been the silent prayers I've been uttering for weeks begging for a break in the "it must be perfect or it's not worth doing" attitude. Whatever the reason, I stopped it tonight. I actually stopped thinking that it had to be just right.

I suddenly, and quite without warning, found myself holding a slice of turnip- imperfect as it was- and appreciating it anyway. It was a red turnip, a variety I've never cooked with before, and it had the most amazing little purple veins through the hard white flesh. When I stopped to think about it, it was beautiful in the same way snowflakes are- a marvel because they are so delicate and unique. Encouraged by this first positive thought I began to consider all the things this little turnip had going for it- it was grown organically about a mile from my house on our CSA farm. It was hand picked by farmer Steven or his wife, and chosen by my son from a bin of a hundred other turnips. It smelled fresh and pungent- I could begin to guess that the au gratin dinner I was preparing was going to offer my family some wholesome nutrition made from local ingredients. In one short hour I would be extolling the virtues of said turnip in order to solicit a bite or two from my more reluctant dinnertime diners, so why was I berating them now? Because they didn't work into the pattern I had planned? Suddenly it seemed to silly.

There is a Chinese proverb which says, "gold cannot be pure, and people cannot be perfect." I would tend to agree, and I would add that neither can things be perfect. By definition we live in a world of beauty and awe, but not perfection. We're mortals, and the best we can hope for is aspiration to improve ourselves and our circumstances; in the meantime we must seek the artistry and value in the process. We have to be content with, if not happy about, our imperfect little turnips.

And for the record, dinner was delicious.

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