Ideal but not perfect

I have one of my grandmother’s quilts. It is made up of 12 blocks of hand-embroidered roses. Eleven of those blocks point the same direction—toward the top of the quilt. One does not. The middle block in the bottom row turns to the side of the quilt like a disobedient child.

This imperfection might bother other people, but that errant block makes me love it all the more. That beautiful imperfection, stitched right into the fabric, is what separates the quilt from ordinary. 

Last week I wrote about how my church was ideal but not perfect. The quilt of that community has blocks pointing in different directions, but those beautiful imperfections, stitched right into the fabric, are what separate us from the ordinary. 

As long as we gracefully accepting our imperfections.

Julia Cameron, in The Artist’s Way, writes:

Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do is ever good enough . . .

Perfectionism stirs in the roots of a lot of misfortune. Books languish on shelves because writers struggle to make every word pure gold. Friendships die when past wrongs don’t meet forgiveness. Kids sit on the sidelines of playing fields, afraid of dropping the ball.

The most successful people in life have a finely honed sense of good enough.

They relentlessly pursue the ideal and gracefully accept the imperfect.

Roger Federer (my idol) is an ideal tennis player, but even he blows balls out the end of the court. When he does, he accepts the imperfection, walks up to the service line and strives for the ideal on his next play. Masterful.

Would I love Roger Federer as much if he never blew a ball out the end of the court? If every serve was an ace, would I grow tired of him? Maybe start to cheer for the opposition? I think so. We don’t really want perfection. We like a few wrinkles in our fellow humans. Imperfections separate us from ordinary and endear us to others all the more.

In our careers, in our friendships, in our social groups, and in our faith communities, strive for ideals, but gracefully accept our beautiful imperfections. Life is far more interesting if an occasional quilt block points the other way.

4 thoughts on “Ideal but not perfect

  1. Jennifer

    It is in the Amish tradition of quilt making to deliberately make an error because the only perfect thing is God. While striving for excellence and beauty in their quilt-making they also honour what they most revere. This error is not a blemish but an act of humility.

    1. Arlene Post author

      I used to wonder if the mistake by my grandmother was intentional in that way, but I don’t remember her making similar decisions in other quilts. I think it was just a mistake, and she was just practical enough to leave it be, thinking that the quilt would still keep people warm, one way or the other. It does. It’s ideal that way.


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