For as long as I can remember I have strived for an elusive perfection in whatever I do. I don’t remember when it started, but I’d bet the farm on my first stage appearance at age six. I had a basketful of small dolls and recited a poem, the words of which I can no longer remember. I remember practicing and practicing and practicing for weeks. The big day came and, I did in fact, recite the poem perfectly. I’m sure that performance set me up to strive for this perfection. Who knew something that simple could influence my whole life? I’ll bet you have something similar if you dig deep enough.
I can also remember that anytime we made anything at school during arts and crafts I wanted mine to be perfect. It rarely was. On my spelling tests I always wanted that “100%” at the top of the page, or the “A+” on a paper. Well, of course, that only happened from time to time, but it didn’t stop me from trying. The pinnacle of this quest was when I got a 100% on one of my Organic Chemistry tests. WooHoo. Even my professor asked me if I knew of any mistakes I had made because he didn’t like to give out perfect grades! The funny thing is my GPA was always 3.5 or higher, but never, ever 4.0 or I guess 5.0 these days. So, while I didn’t have to settle for mediocrity, I also couldn’t claim perfection.
My first husband’s mother (My MIL) was from Switzerland and she was the perfect housekeeper. She set about making me one too and I actually did achieve that perfection. How do I know? Because one day she showed up at my house (some one hour’s drive away) unannounced and most assuredly unexpected. She was absolutely astounded and amazed that my house was “white-glove” clean. I had earned the Swiss equivalent of a five-star clean house. What she didn’t know was that I had just put the vacuum away after my two-day cleaning routine of upstairs Monday, downstairs Tuesday. There wasn’t a chance in hell that my house wasn’t clean.
The legacy from my MIL is that to this day whenever we have company, my house has to be perfect as if “The Queen” herself were coming for a visit. I know that I drive my family nuts trying to achieve this, but I simply can’t help myself. Although my MIL has been dead for almost 12 years now, my sub-conscious psyche still expects her to show up unexpectedly.
I am now the producer of our church’s bulletins and my quest for perfection rears its ugly head every week. I want to produce that perfect bulletin. Once, I thought I had achieved that lofty goal only to discover two periods at the end of one lousy sentence. One period. Crap.
Then, one Sunday recently, the celebrant (the person leading the service) messed up the order of the readings and read the wrong lesson throwing three people into a tizzie – the organist (what hymn to play next?), the next reader (whose lesson had just been read), and the reader after that (who wondered who would read what and what hymn would be played). Of course, it all worked out in the end (time does go on regardless) but, sitting there I realized that I could produce the perfect bulletin and it could still get screwed up!
I also realized that my MIL was dead, my house was clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy and the Queen wasn’t coming, ever. My friends and family love me for me, not for the cleanliness of my house. I no longer do arts & crafts, take exams, recite poetry onstage, or strive for bulletin perfection. A mistake, error, or typo here or there is not the end of the world, particularly of my world, or anyone else’s for that matter. And, I realize that it is I who am striving for this elusive perfection not anyone else. I will always try to do the best I can, but I finally realized that if I want to be perfect, I’ll have to be dead.