Thursday, June 28, 2007

living with imperfection

I was working on the undergraduate catalog recently and noticed a typo that had appeared in last year's edition. It must have happened as a last-minute slip of the keyboard because I always run spell check (an hour-long process on a 300-page catalog) just before sending to the printer, and spell check should have caught this error. After a few moments of embarassment, I thought: it happens. Move on.

I'm not a perfectionist, having recognized long ago the unhealthiness of such a tendency, but I do like to make my work as error-free as humanly possibly. Sometimes I look at a story or a newsletter in the blueline stage and wish I could redo or rewrite the whole thing, but at such times I assure myself that I am probably a harsher critic than most other readers.

I wanted to walk back to work today after driving home for lunch. As I headed out the door, I noticed on the counter a packet of fliers that I had promised to distribute in the neighborhood. I thought I could complete part of this task on my way back to work and finish it on my way home.

In our neighborhood of old houses, we all struggle to maintain structures that have already endured over a century of living. We have tall trees dropping their limbs, we have rotting wood, we have crumbling sidewalks and crumbling foundations. We fight against the aging process. But weeds grow, paint peels, concrete chips, and cobwebs accumulate.

I want my house to look beautiful, and I often dream of winning the lottery because I know, on my own, I can't make my vision happen. But, as I walked up to all of my neighbors' porches today, I was surprised, as I got a close-up view, that they too have weeds they can't keep up with, paint that is chipping off, and shifting concrete.

I look so critically at my restoration efforts, but today I realized that everyone on my street struggles in the same way. As I walked across my neighbors' lawns towards home, humidity dripping from my scalp and raindrops pelting the pavement, I thought of a line from W. B. Yeats:

"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold."

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