It was only a few years ago we were in Wyoming to spend time with family. My father-in-law was born in Wyoming but lived much of his life in Utah. As his retirement neared he decided to purchase a small cabin deep in the vaguely flat fields of Wyoming. At first I thought it a strange move and often wondered why he purchased a place out there. Then it occurred to me how, at some point in our lives, most everybody yearns to go home. Suddenly I understood.
So on this mid-Saturday morning, sitting in this small cabin filled with all manner of children, grandchildren and in-laws I saw something that swept my heart to the heavens and back. I had just sat on the couch for a bit to write in my journal when I noticed through the chaos of people and things a tender conversation between Mitch and his grandfather. This was the same grandfather who, just a few years later, would give Mitch a puppy to call his own, just weeks before he died. You can watch that sweet exchange here: vimeo.com/58228257
Mitch had just painted a hat and was showing his loving grandfather what he had worked so hard to do. I could tell by the tender look on Mitchell’s face he appreciated how much grandpa cared. Though I was surrounded by the noise of 15 people scuttling about the activities of the day, time slowed down for me and I watched this quiet exchange with tears in my eyes. I hid my face behind my camera, so as not to be noticed or draw attention. I was so grateful for the love and quiet attention my son received – for this moment, among many others, shaped him.
My father-in-law has no idea this picture exists and I am quite certain he doesn't remember this ordinary, but beautiful exchange. But I remember this and many more like them – and I have photos of them, too. These moments remembered are like bandages that bind up my broken heart. They remind me that my son had a good life and that he was surrounded by people who loved him – and Mitch felt it. These happy moments give my heart, stricken with grief, a moment of peace and sweet release.
As I look upon this nearly invisible exchange, a conversation that lasted no more than 2 minutes, I am reminded why we are here in the first place. I can’t help but wonder if the Father of our souls lovingly looks at our own messy efforts, despite how critical we might be of ourselves, and is pleased to see we did the best we knew how. Mitch did the best he knew how, and it was perfect. Nothing more could have been asked of him – I was so proud of Mitch.
The older I get the less I fixate on perfection and the more I am satisfied with growth – however fast or slow. I know many perfectionists whose greatest weakness is perfectionism. They are tyrannized by order, symmetry, and technical flawlessness – so much so, their appetite for perfection bleeds into their human exchanges and they often miss the point of things and damage relationships. Oh there’s a time and a place for perfection; I expect a bridge, or a building, or an aircraft be engineered perfectly. But in matters of the soul, we tend to build and rebuild ourselves with materials we cannot see – which makes the struggle of human growth woven with great difficulty.
At least for me, life is an exercise of trial and error, failures and triumphs, stumbling down and getting back on our feet again. In the end, I believe we’ll all come to know the purpose of life is to gain experience and grow. One day, in that place beyond the hills, I believe we will look back on our own struggles and see how, because of them, we were made stronger, more compassionate and more like our Father.
I’ll never forget Mitchell’s messy hat, colored with chaotic splotches from his young, inexperienced hand. It was perfect. Nor will I ever forget this seasoned grandfather, a man who quietly longed to be home, who offered love and attention to my son. Though, mortal and imperfect, in that moment he was perfect.
I hope, at the end of my days, my Father will see far past my weaknesses, which are many, and look upon my heart; for there is love in there, it has been that way from the very start.
I am grateful for this sweet exchange, and many like them, that remind me to look for perfect moments, not perfect people. Perfection, at least in matters of the soul, has more to do with effort than exactness – the invisible things we do, over time, that shape our heart, minds and souls.