This might be the hardest of the 15 Things I've come to realize. It's not about being perfect. I think I'm finally beginning to get it, but it's not natural for me. My instinct is still to cover up and hide my imperfections (a doomed task, an impossible one, but also a self-defeating one). My instinct is still to show the ways I'm strong, and hide the ways I'm weak. My instinct is still to impress people into loving me, as if that's how it works.
But of course that's not how it works. I know that in my head and I know it in my heart -- that's certainly not how I come to love the people I love -- and somehow I'm starting to get it in the reptile brain, whatever place it is that gives me those social instincts and fears.
What's it about, if not about being perfect? I think it's about being genuine. Being yourself. Being open. Showing up. Trying hard. Picking yourself up when you fall down. Admitting it when you're sad. Letting people see you working on things, lumping along as best you can. Making people feel like part of your life. The word accessories comes to mind, in both senses. The bad way is including people like the bag that matches your shoes that matches your scarf, to compose an externally perfect life. That's not how to include people in your life. It's the other kind of accessory, an accessory to a crime, that I was thinking about -- including people in a scheme that may or may not work, letting them in behind the curtain, trusting them to help you, asking for loyalty and admitting your crazy desperate hopes. Making people an accessory to your life, the risks and the rewards, that's what it's about.
My dog is my best teacher, still, about love and living. She's not perfect: she's got one eye and three legs. She farts like a champion. She barks insistently at nothing and sleeps too much and thinks almost anything on the ground with an odor to it should be tasted and probably eaten. She's mostly obedient but sometimes she roams or dawdles. She sleeps on the sofa when she thinks she can get away with it, although she knows this is forbidden. Lately she even forgets to look guilty or contrite about it. She licks the sweat off my legs when I've come back from a run and am stretching, with a patient insistence. She drools when watching me fill her dog dish. She chews sticks into wood pulp, scattering the chips in a messy pattern all around and making her mouth bleed. She's unsteady on her lone back leg in rocks and in deep snow, and I sometimes have to pick her up and help her climb a ledge or scramble down a steep spot. I don't think the AKC guys would be excited about her.
But even typing these things I am smiling because they don't seem like bad things. I love her so much, not despite these imperfections but because of them. I love how she doesn't seem to care at all about her weaknesses. She gallops along anyway, and if she needs help climbing a steep spot she lets me help her, gives me a lick, and keeps running. I love listening to her snore. I like how comfortable she can be, and how she lets me see her dreaming. She loves to kiss me and if I'm nearby she'll walk over and lick whatever skin is available. Her ears are soft and warm and smell sweet and doggy. She thinks I am the center of the universe, and when she's chewing a stick into shreds she'll occasionally get up and parade near me to be sure I've noticed her accomplishment, then settle back to the task. She's an old dog now, and nonplussed, but she still doesn't take me for granted, and she climbs her way up a flight of stairs -- slow, painstaking progress for a three-legged dog -- just to lie down at my feet when I'm at my desk. I love how much she needs me. I love watching her explore when I take her to a new place. She makes my world feel fresher, because so much of it is still a mystery to her.
Loyalty, playfulness, curiosity, affection, and an absence of shame and pretense. This is what I think it's about. It's not about being perfect. Imperfection is inevitable. But you can find so much to love in this imperfect world. A graying dog sleeping at your elbow, her even low breath like a heartbeat of the morning, and from time to time a terrible fart to make you exclaim in disbelief, and wake her. She looks up at you, thumps her tail, and goes back to sleep. That's what it's about.