• Erin Zelinka

The Impermanence of Perfection and Coping with Cobwebs

When my ex-husband and I finished building our house, I recall how much it bothered me to look up and see spider webs collecting beneath the shiny new gutters.

Already? Wasn't this supposed to be brand spanking new, shiny and flawless and low-maintenance?

We had, after all, chosen only the lowest maintenance features. Water-spot-resistant faucets. Shelfless showers, so soap scum wouldn't accumulate. Crackless cabinets and countertops, so crumbs nor dust could settle.

I couldn't stand the idea of cleaning and cleaning, only to clean it up all over again.

But what bothered me more about the cobwebs, under my gutters and throughout my life, was the impermanence of perfection.

No matter how hard I tried—no matter how much I scrubbed or how much I strived or how much I smiled—it all, inevitably, fell apart at some point.

I could go to my job at the sheriff's office with a smile every day, but after months of stress and sometimes harassment, I broke down and had to resign. My grant-funded position would not be filled, and months of work would be lost to oblivion.

I could diet for weeks, starving myself and working out daily, maybe even losing 20 pounds, but, after a while, real food and the weight would come back. And even if I did get my body just how I wanted it, it would ultimately wither and wrinkle and decompose.

And then there's my marriage, which I entered when I was only 19, committing myself fervently, priding myself on the fact that we would be celebrating our tenth anniversary by the time I was 29.

But we didn't make it to the tenth anniversary. We made it 8.5 years. Because, as it turns out, when you're 19, you don't know what lies ahead. And, sometimes, no matter how "perfect" you and your partner try to be, things fall apart.

The spider webs were the beginning of a realization and subsequent demoralization.

I had worked so hard to make everything perfect, myself and everything around me, only to be devastated when I figured out that perfection does not exist. At least not permanently. It's a temporary state that, like everything else, fluctuates.

So why even try? If it's all going to fall apart anyway? Why build a career that might crumble? Why love someone who might change or leave? Why clean the cobwebs when they're just going to come back again? Why write a blog about cobwebs that will ultimately be lost to internet obscurity?

In the wise words of Tibetan Buddhist Pema Chödrön, in her book When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times:

"[Things] come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy."

I had to change my idea that the purpose of life is to be perfect, to arrive at some finish line where there are no more problems.

And if perfection is not the goal, then what should one strive for in life? My counselor helped me find an answer.

"If perfection is impossible, maybe you can start to see some of the positives in imperfection," she said.

I stared dumbly at her. Pfh. Positives in imperfection, please.

"How about being HUMAN?" she said. "How about being REAL?"

She smiled, and so did I, as tears welled up in my eyes.

"You're right," I admitted. "All of my dearest friends...I don't love them because they're perfect. I love them because they're real. Authentic."

Things fall apart, including me, but that's okay, because the purpose of living is not to be perfect but to be present, to be human.

Nowadays, I don't mind cobwebs. There's something beautiful about how delicate they are, how they can be destroyed in a single swoop, and yet the spider builds them just the same.

Authors note: I was hesitant to publish this blog, my first one, because—you guessed it—it's not perfect. But then I decided to follow my own advice and weave my own web(log) :).

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​© 2017 by Erin Zelinka

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