Thursday, October 3, 2013

There is no perfect

I love working for L'Arche for many reasons, but the main one, of course, is the people with and without disabilities with whom I have developed friendships. Today I am thinking of a very fine young man without disabilities, an assistant in the community whom I have the pleasure of accompanying on his journey in L'Arche. He visits me once a month for an hour of "accompaniment" and a good cup of masala chai (at least he tells me it's a good cup). I listen to stories of his life in L'Arche, and ask questions for reflection, and encourage him (he does a good job, after all). Sometimes I feel like I am the one being accompanied, because he often leaves me with thoughts that stick in my mind.

The most recent is the heading of this moodling. I can't remember the exact context in which he said it, but the emphasis in his soft-spoken delivery hit me with force. He's absolutely right -- there is always a shadow over perfection, whether we realize it or not. The perfection of a rose only lasts a day; the perfect moment soon becomes a memory. More often than not, things and events and people are far from perfect in our interactions with them. Yet there are many places in our lives where we still expect perfection. Of ourselves, of others, of our governments. Of God, who, granted, is perfect, but who chooses to let us live in imperfection because that's how we human beings find our way to God. I suspect those who write God off have never understood that if God went around thunderbolting people and situations because of imperfection, we'd live on an extremely scorched planet! And if things were perfect here, it wouldn't be earth, but heaven!

Along with the idea of "no perfect" comes another idea that I received from Susan, the amazing woman I have recently been interviewing about the history of our L'Arche community in Edmonton. She has a dozen or so serious medical conditions at the moment, and she says, "Isn't it something how we are conditioned to believe that everything should always go right?" And yet, so much doesn't. In spite of their best efforts at pulling themselves up by the bootstraps, people I'm connected to these days have terminal cancer, heart attacks, money troubles, relationship problems, and frustrations that positive thinking can't melt away no matter how hard they think positively.

So, what to do?

See, even my attempts at imperfection aren't perfect!
We can be angry about all this imperfection, or we can embrace it as part of life and human nature. We can write imperfect people off, or we can recognize in them some of our own imperfections and be loving and accepting, as in L'Arche. We can choose denial, or we can work on grieving and healing our hearts. We can rail at God for the injustices in the system, or we can see our own participation in those injustices and "be the change."

It's when things don't work out that a person's true personality comes out, true growth occurs, and true grace appears, but even so, we tend to see life's trials as the worst things that can happen.

But that's not always the case. I can tell a dozen stories from my own life about when things got screwed up so badly, I couldn't possibly imagine them coming out okay. Here's just one pretty basic (but long-lasting) example: when I was seventeen, I was diagnosed with juvenile (Type I) diabetes. For the first month or so, it seemed like an adventure -- learning to take insulin injections, changing my diet, testing my blood sugars, and balancing food and exercise. Then it hit me  -- this diabetes thing was a permanent imperfection in my life. Unless there was a cure, I would never NOT have diabetes again. For the next eight years I went through a lot of denial, cheated on my diet, and risked my health. I gained 30 lbs and felt pretty lousy a lot of the time, blaming God and the disease rather than my own handling of the situation.

Fortunately, I woke up to reality before the terrible complications associated with diabetes set in. Three decades and three healthy children later, my kidneys are fine, my circulation is good, and my vision isn't any worse than other people my age. My only problem is this dizziness that seems to be permanent, and to which I have become mostly accustomed.

It's no picnic taking 6 needles a day and having fingers constantly full of holes because of blood tests... but I've also had plenty of time to see the blessings of the disease. Blessings? Yes, blessings. I eat healthy, and by association, so does my family. I get a lot of exercise (especially with my husband, Lee, and Shadow puppy, our new walking partner). My weight is where it should be, and my health is good. I have a certain kind of discipline in my life, for which I can thank a chronic illness. I may end up with more serious complications somewhere down the road (heart attacks and strokes claim a lot of people with diabetes) but that just means that I am aware of and appreciate my life and health while I have it.

There is no perfect, but if we look hard enough for it, there's often "pretty good."

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