The Road to Perfection
David is 6 years old and a tireless perfectionist. I peek over his shoulder as he sounds out each letter of a word while he attempts to spell it in English..Mmm..Iii.. "Mi." I tap him on the shoulder.
"David, I understand why you would think an I belongs in "My", but en Ingles, a "y" sometimes makes the "i" sound."
David fixes his eyes on the word and lingers for a moment. Then without a seconds more hesitation, he begins to vigorously scribble out the tiny word until it is nothing but a black smudge of ink on the paper. Before I can stop him, he flips the entire page (which was completely blank apart from one misspelled word), and begins to try again.
This is a cycle that will continue for the next hour and a half as we navigate our way through our second week of English lessons. The other day he got so frustrated with himself that he broke down in tears, and his mom came into the room shaking her head, because she already knew what was happening. "He's a perfectionist," she whispered, as she stroked his hair. I left that day, and a few others, feeling absolutely defeated. Not only because I couldn't fully help him, but because inside I could understand his struggle completely.
The pursuit of perfection is something we all deal with, and when your face-to-face with your own shortcomings, there is no way to turn the other cheek and pretend like they don't exist.
That day when David broke down, I jumped into hyper recovery mode. "DAVID!" I said, "You are so smart, the English language is so difficult." and "You are doing so well, keep trying. Try again." But the damage had been done for the day..exasperated he huffed loudly "No!" and tossed his notebook across the table.
The realist in me understood this too. Most days I would give anything to be 6 again, just so I can loudly proclaim "No!" when I am done with all of this. But adulthood, and really life in general, require us to keep showing up. And so that's what David and I did the following day...
Yesterday as I sat down with him to practice his sentence structure, fear engulfed me. What if I can't reach him? What if I overstep and cause him to have a meltdown? As I lingered on this doubt, David was already one step ahead, breaking out his pen and getting to work.
That's one of the things I love most about children, that really revives me just by being in their presence. Maybe its because they've had less time to be scarred by this world, to be beaten down enough to quit; but whatever it is, the pains of their yesterdays are quite literally erased by the sun. David laid aside his failures from the day before as if they never even happened, and he began again today with energy and an open mind.
More than his burgeoning young mind, and his will power, and his youthful vigor, I appreciate his courage the most.
Maya Angelou is famous for all of her words, but these few stand out to me.
"I am convinced that courage is the most important of all the virtues. Because without courage, you cannot practice any other virtue consistently. You can be kind for a while; you can be generous for a while; you can be just for a while, or merciful for a while, even loving for a while. But it is only with courage that you can be persistently and insistently kind and generous and fair. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage."
It takes courage to begin, to practice, and to learn. David has a lot of it, and most of us show an ounce of it just by waking up every morning and getting a few things done. Perfection often seems like the real end goal, the character trait to ultimately strive for, but I'm convinced that at least while we're here on this earth, bravery to keep showing up has greater depth to it and far more meaning than perfection can ever offer.