In nature, nothing is perfect
and everything is perfect.
Trees can be contorted,
bent in weird ways,
and they’re still beautiful.
~ Alice Walker
If I could leave any lasting piece of advice for my children before I become a ghost it would be this:
“Leave the pursuit of being perfect to the assholes of the world.”
I know that isn’t a very elegant slice of wisdom for my kids to meditate on, but it’s something that I wish I would have told them years ago. If there is anything that being a father to an autistic father has taught me is that there is no such thing (unless you’re a pitcher in baseball or the chin of Hugh Grant) as perfection.
Autism has shown me the value of embracing a Wabi Sabi perspective of life.
What is Wabi Sabi?
Wabi = Rustic, Simple, Quiet.
Sabi = Appreciating flawed beauty.
Simply put, Wabi Sabi is the passionate embrace of all of the imperfections of the world. It is finding beauty in things that are incomplete, imperfect, and temporary. Wabi Sabi is an Eastern World view of appreciating the unfinished and broken world that surrounds us. It is a Japanese philosophy that is the anthesis of the need for perfection that our culture constantly steers us toward. Wabi Sabi celebrates the jagged edges of life. To find the charm in things that are coarse or uneven. Wabi Sabi encourages us to look past the outside picture of a rustic and weathered home and to instead focus on the love that flourishes inside of it. It tells to see the beauty in the cracked vase on the mantle, rather than lamenting on it’s brokenness.
People will always grow and change.
Buildings, no matter how masterfully built, will eventually decay and be replaced by new ones.
Statues will always crumble.
Lovely moments in time will always slip by us.
Flowers will always fade away.
Cracks will always form in the pavement.
We are all in a constant state of change and transition. Despite our need for order and consistency it is an unattainable goal. Permanence and perfection don’t exist.
Wabi Sabi advises us that all things change – both the good and the bad. Everything is in motion and in order to keep pace we need to have a flexible heart and mind. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from an amazing women named Helen who worked with many kids (including mine) in my community who were diagnosed as autistic. Helen told me to not get to attached to any of the obstacles we were facing (and holy crap there were a lot of obstacles at the time she said this to me) in helping our son navigate the spectrum of autism. Helen said that whatever problems we were facing would eventually go away and be replaced with new ones. That when raising kids who were living with special needs it is important to be able to let go of problems, if no other reason than to simply make room for new ones.
When I was a younger parent I was a better witness to the power and grace of imperfection. Our autistic son, on the outside was a raging bull of emotions and unpredictable behaviors – but on the inside he was as beautiful and delicate of a soul that I will have ever met. Autism has been teaching me about Wabi Sabi for years without me knowing it. It has shown me that although the tree may be bent it can still bloom the most radiant blossoms. Nothing is broken. Nothing is less than.
Perfection is like Big Foot. Sometimes we see can catch a faint glimpse of it, only for it to run off into the dark woods again. We can track and analyze it’s mysterious footprints for years without ever being able to find it’s resting place. We can spend our whole lives obsessing with locating the elusive perfection to eventually discover that it doesn’t exist – it never did.
Life is messy and people are messier.
Everything is in a state of transition.
Nothing remains the same.
Wonderful moments come and fade away.
Horrible moments do the exact same thing.
The good and bad of our life is in a constant state of recycling.
Everything is withering and weathering – and that is okay.
A couple years ago we remodeled my parents old house and discovered that underneath the sweet 70’s shag carpet existed hundreds of square feet of hardwood flooring. The wood was chipped and faded. Immediately I wanted it to be fixed. We spent thousands of dollars restoring it and re-staining it so it would appear brand new. That newness lasted a couple of weeks and with the business of our family the pristine floors started getting scratches and marks in it. Every time I discovered an imperfection in the wood I would grab my repair kit and try to scrub the newness back into it. I became the self-appointed sheriff of the hardwood and police how people would walk on it or how they would sit in their chairs that rested on it’s dark brown surface. What would people think when they would visit our house? They would think we were animals! A couple of months ago as I was polishing the floor while inhaling the fumes from my trusty bottle of Old English floor treatment I was overcome with anger about the state ofour hardwood. There were scratches and marks everywhere. It no longer looked like the perfect surface it once did. Instead it looked:
And that is a really good thing.
Did I want to live in a museum or a hotel? No. I want to live in a house full of noise and action. I want to live in a house that is made up of equal parts chaos and love. I want it to look lived in. I want scars on the wall and the floor. I want to leave our mark here. I want the next people to live in our house to see that under our roof existed passion and life. It will be the imprefections of our home that will make it unique. I want my home to be a Wabi Sabi kind of place. I wanted it to a place of flawed and lived in beauty.
Unfortuantley that lesson didn’t immediatly permeate itself into all the walks of my life right away.
I have allowed my kids to over worry about the bullshit of grades and the ridiculous concern of what people think of them for too long. That doesn’t mean to say that I am letting them drop out of school and to quit showering, but rather, it means that I want them to know that it’s okay to not poison themselves with the illusion that life is about always winning or being constantly precise. Striving for perfection is inviting unnecessary complication and strife into life. I want them to focus more on living a more Wabi Sabi kind of life. I want them to embrace their mistakes. Just this morning I was badgering my kids with a litany of senseless worries. They weren’t listening to me. They weren’t following my instructions. If they kept this up we would be late for school! Can you imagine the horror?! We would be late for school!! I’m sure that it was an offense so great that I would be arrested for child neglect. I was furious that they weren’t perfect -that they weren’t robots. My behavior was shameful. I need to better apply the lessons of Wabi Sabi to my parenting.
My three boys won’t be this age forever. They are aging. Their moments of with me and their mother are quickly passing by. In a blink of an eye they will be adults and raising their own children – and what will I have taught them? That the secret of life is about following the rules? That life is meant to be spent in the pursuit of perfection? I hope not. If anything I want them to know the value in the opposite of those statements. That the secret to life is to think and act creatively – which mean you will make mistakes. To live life with passion means that they are going to make some serious messes that may leave permanent marks – and that is to be celebrated. That life will never be perfect and that is what makes it wonderful. I want them to stop and appreciate the world around them instead of chasing some perfect fantasy world in the future that will never exist. Let everybody else be in competition with each other. I want them to find the charm and adventure that comes with living an imperfect life.
I hope I can live out the rest of my days honoring the unheralded and weathered beauty that encircles me. I hope that I stop wasting my life trying to find perfection. I hope to someday surrender to living with simplicity and to exclude the sleek and complicated from my life. I hope I can come to peace that my life will always be in a state of transition – that nothing will ever remain the same, and that it is okay.
When I die I know that I will find that the face of my God will not be unblemished – it will be full of freckles, dimples, and a wide crooked smile. He will look lived in. Just like I He didn’t create a perfect world with perfect people – but what an amazing imperfect place he fashioned for us!