Finding beauty instead of imperfection

Published 4:39 pm Friday, September 22, 2023

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Art has always been a part of my life. I’m a painter, an illustrator, and a graphic designer. I’m not claiming to be wonderful at any of those, but I will claim to be a reasonably skilled pyrographer. That’s the fancy word for wood burning that is just too cool not to use. During the early days of the COVID-19 lockdown, I decided to try my hand at a new hobby. I had seen wood burning online and found the process fascinating. Once you take that hot instrument and burn in a design, it’s there. It’s permanent. There’s no eraser for an errant burn mark, and you can’t paint over the canvas if you need to begin again. Once it’s there, it’s there, not unlike a scar.

Of course, there’s always the option to just throw the wood away and start fresh. I’ve done that a few times, but I feel something inside of me hesitate right before I drop it into the bin. Not just with wood, but with so many things, we are conditioned to toss aside imperfections in a quest for some Grand Ideal of Perfection that simply doesn’t exist. The tyrannical power of perfection overtakes us not because perfection is attainable but precisely because we as a people willingly submit ourselves to the idea that with a little more time, skill, or money, we can achieve the unachievable.

To pursue perfection, though, is to miss the beauty that exists in that which we deem imperfect. As I’m woodburning, when my hand moves to the right instead of the left, I have two choices. I can lament what I see as a flaw, or I can adapt the design and incorporate my mistake into the finished project. If I simply lament, throwing up my hands in frustration and throwing down the wood into the trash, I have deprived myself of the ability to see the beauty already existing on the face of the wood. One mistake, one errant burn mark, shouldn’t make the whole project worthless. Only once I have deemed something worthless does it actually become worthless.

All of us have scars of our own. We carry them within, on our psyches, and without, on our bodies. I can count six new scars on my body from the last year alone. And yeah, there have been times when I’ve stood in front of the mirror, staring at the scars, and thought to myself, “You’re looking rough.” I actually say much crueler things about myself, but I don’t think the Washington Daily News would be able to print them. The regrets we have from the past, they form like scars, too. We replay in our minds the worst thing we’ve ever done, and we let it convince us that we are truly the worst versions of ourselves.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can learn to live with the scars we carry. To embrace our scars as part of who we are and a reflection of where we came from is to stare into the face of perfection’s spectre and say, “You have no power over me because you aren’t even real.” The truth is that every piece of my art has an errant burn, a scar of imperfection. If I were to throw away everything imperfect I’ve done, I’d lose the chance to see both how far my art has come and how beautiful my art actually is.

The same truth exists for us. We are a scarred people, carrying past traumas and mistakes. We are shackled by the question, ‘What if?’ when thinking about what we’ve done in the past. All of this can swirl together, like a tornado, and leave us wrecked. Or, we can begin to withstand the tyranny of imperfection. We can embrace our imperfections as part of a beautiful whole, knowing that we are more than the sum of our failures and embarrassments. After all, even the Resurrected Jesus bore the scars of his cross. You are beautiful, my friends, and never let anybody tell you otherwise, even yourself.

Chris Adams is the Rector at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Washington.