In the third grade I kept a diary. One entry was preceeded by a Bible verse: "Be ye perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect." Underneath I recorded my intention that from that moment on I was going to be perfect. I would color inside the lines, always be places on time, do my chores cheerfully, treat grownups with respect and courtesy, get straight As in school et al. I actually succeeded pretty well at most of those goals - I had a lot riding on it and I was a stubborn kid. But no one can be perfect. Nevertheless, the sincerity of my intention was recorded in a letter to God, requesting that He take me back to Heaven, so that I would no longer be driving my grandmother into an early grave, as she frequently mentioned me doing.
"You are driving me into an early grave" is a statement most of the children of North Bennington had hurled at them from time to time, from harried mothers. No one in North Bennington was in therapy. If someone became a raving lunatic and ran down the middle of the street in their underwear, screaming, that person would be hauled off to the state mental hospital. Everyone who fell short of that was still walking the streets, raising children, teaching school, standing behind the counter at the store et al. It was a treacherous world.
The early grave accusation had some extra punch at my house, because it was often followed by my grandmother sinking on to the couch, clasping her bony chest, and croaking, "Go get me my pills. Hurry!" I was indeed a murderer in the making.
My grandmother lived to be almost 80, back in a day and a time when that was considered an unusually long life. I went on to try, during the 1960s, to be as imperfect as I possibly could. I have had a long and interesting life that has not ostensibly been ruled by attempts to be perfect. Nevertheless, when I really look at my life, I find underlying it all an enormous glacier of would-be-perfection that never stops whispering to me or silently tying my muscles into knots. Some part of me is still trying to color inside the lines, to get it right, to meet other people's expectations. I have even managed to aquire a massively bogus reputation as the "Angel of the Homeless", or "Mother Theresa of Gainesville" because I volunteer in the homeless community. The desire to help homeless people is very real, but the giant dog and pony show I created to out-service all those other do-gooders out there (not a conscious goal) may have been from a child who was trying to be perfect. It doesn't matter. Most human projects are the result of mixed and ambivalent goals, ranging from the altruistic to other, hidden, agendas. The Home Van has been one of the most wonderful experiences of my life and I would never trade it in for purity of motives.
A few years ago I took up painting. My early paintings are really, really bad because everything was perfectly colored inside the lines. Coloring books from WalMart would be more interesting as art than those early paintings. Finally, the epiphany came - forget the f***king lines - be wild! As I continue to paint, as I turn in my pink slip to the Mother Theresa Employment Agency (except for a small food pantry - I still need that connection to my homeless friends), as I walk into a scary world outside the lines, I find myself needing to trust God. For me, God is outside the lines. And blessed be!