As I hiked this week, and yes, I did sneak in an extra, shorter hike one morning, along with our long one on Tuesday, I had to be mindful of footing for many of the steps taken. The trails have been travelled all winter, and as such, the snow on the trails has been packed down over the months. Once the warmer daytime temperatures arrived, snow began to melt. The snow in the forest, mostly untouched, melted quickly. The packed snow on the trails, however, simply melted on the top. Then each night, as the temperature dropped, this became ice. This cycle repeated over and over throughout March, leading to the interesting pattern of forest floors ranging from snow covered to bare, with very icy trails running through them.
Because of the footing, my gaze didn’t stray too far as I walked. Mostly, it was aimed toward the ground and at the things within close range. With this close-up view, I noted most of the trees were imperfect. Many had one side, most often the side receiving the wind, that was flat, or that had shorter branches than the other side. Some of the trees had no top at all. Others, due to the damaging windstorm in November, had split trunks. Far too many had toppled right over. I don’t think we ever saw one tree that was perfect. None of them would look too good on a front lawn.
And yet, put together, all these imperfect timbers create the most breathtaking scenes. I can’t count how often we remark on the beauty of the places we walk. Not a week goes by, likely not an hour during any hike, when either Brenda or I don’t say, “Isn’t this incredible?”, or “Isn’t this just beautiful?”. We always agree that it is indeed both incredible and beautiful. And perfectly imperfect.
I’ve pondered this. Nature mirrors life, or perhaps life mirrors nature. Either way, this phenomenon plays out again and again in life. I can’t think of any group I’m part of, not even small groups, not even groups of two, where any one member is perfect. Yet, I know I’m part of some perfectly imperfect groups. Somehow it happens, that even though when each of us is examined up close, when we are zoomed in on, we are imperfect, yet when we take our place in our group, beauty and perfection are found. The little imperfections, and quirks, the parts of us that have been buffeted by the wind, bring the magic. The tattered side of one of us is flanked by the fullness of another.
Having figured I’d solved the mystery of humans with my observation of the power of the group, I surprised myself on my shorter hike this week. I proudly looked for evidence to support my theory about how individual trees and shrubs, while each of them imperfect, manage to form a perfect picture. I told myself to zoom out, to not focus so much on individuals, where certainly I would find flaws. To instead look for the bigger picture. And then, right when I least expected it, there it was. The contradiction to my theory.
We came across many large trees that had been felled by the storm last Fall. The forest service has been out clearing the area. In the area we chose for our short hike, there was a sign saying they had cleared over three hundred trees. We saw many freshly cut edges of fallen trees where the trees had been cleared from the path. As I kept my focus on the big picture, on the zoom out, we noticed the sun shining on a freshly cut-in-half tree. The air temperature was hardly above zero, but the warm sun warmed the flesh of the tree enough that the sap was being coaxed out. I looked closer, zooming in. The sap wasn’t carelessly dripping out. It had come out in a perfect circle, forming a ring of crystals, several centimetres wide, all around the log. It was breathtaking. And I realized then how wrong I had been.
I wasn’t wrong in thinking many imperfect trees, or humans, can create perfection. What was wrong, was my thinking that any of the trees were imperfect to begin with. Certainly, some did not resemble the perfect image we may see in a painting or on a Christmas card, or the carefully manicured ones we see on landscaped lawns. But the closer I got to this imperfect, blown down tree, the more I zoomed in, the more I could see the absolute perfection within it.
I recognized my mistake immediately. I had been judging the trees by their outward appearance. I had judged them by some standard set on cards and in movies. In doing so, I missed the complete perfection found within.
It’s the same with humans. It turns out, we are perfect. We are perfect just the way we are. In fact, if we were all picture perfect in the over-filtered photograph kind of way, if we had no quirks and oddities, there would be nothing interesting about us. It is only because we each bring our unique selves to our families, friendships and groups, not only what is on the outside but on the inside too, that we can add to the beauty and wonder of the forest of our lives.
We’ve been through a tough slug these past couple of years. We’ve been pretty battered by the wind. May we each recognize the perfect imperfection within ourselves and those surrounding us.
My inquiry for you this week is, ‘What perfection do I see in the imperfection?’
Elizabeth is a certified professional Leadership Coach, and the owner of Critchley Coaching. She is the founder and president of the Canadian charity, RDL Building Hope Society. She works with corporations, non-profits and the public sector, providing leadership coaching. She creates and facilitates custom workshops for all sizes of groups. She has expertise in facilitating Strategic Plans for organizations and for conducting leadership reviews. Contact Elizabeth to learn how to find the perfect imperfections in your life.