My mom, Mama to my sisters and I, gave me two important lessons:
- Always leave a place better than you found it.
- No mortal has ever been nor has ever needed to be perfect.
Words cannot describe how much I needed these lessons. The first lesson was easy for me. It made me a super-star babysitter, an amazing house guest, and, ultimately, an activist.
I have always been feisty and at least outwardly tough. I was old for my age, with an imaginary husband and angel instead of a mere friend. I loved soap operas and decided at age four that I needed a pair of heals (blue plastic clogs did the trick), long hair (I wore a purse with braided straps on my head), and starting preparing to be one of those “wonder women” I heard about on tv. I was going to do it all, be it all, and take the world by storm and set everything right. I was a perfectionist with a strong desire to make the world better–my version of better.
My dollhouse was a place to clean and organize. Public restrooms needed my attention and I would often have to be dragged away to be stopped from doing more than wiping down the counters. It was important to me the angle at which the tv guide sat on our table and how our kitchen was arranged. I was six when I first told a teacher, “I’m going to do it like this instead because I think that’ll be better.” I got away with things like this because I have my mom’s frame and. let’s face it, a tiny girl with oversized glasses and just enough freckles on her nose is just too adorable to say no to. And I told people that.
Every once in a while, though, there would be those who were not willing to let me “improve” things. When ever I encountered someone who questioned me, or worse, someone who observed me make a mistake, I found myself at a loss, almost debilitated by panic. I was riddled with anxiety as a child, never sleeping through the night, always crying and worrying.
A library book left on the bus? I did not sleep the entire weekend until my mom contacted the bus company and it was retrieved. My mom and stepdad had a fight? I would cry all night as I planned how we would survive without a second income, where we would live, and how I would help out. My mom had to work late? I had to stay awake until she got home so I knew she was safe.
If I saw a movie with a fire, I needed to make a fire escape plan. If I heard on the news about political conflict, I would pray, for hours, that our leaders would be smart enough to do what I thought was right.
This isn’t all bad. My perfectionism and anxiety led me to create my first chore chart at a very early age, to help my family be organized and make things fair. I was a teachers’ favorite. I always sought work and responsibility. I definitely was working on Mama’s first lesson.
That second lesson, though, that was a killer.
“Sarah,” she would remind. “Only our Heavenly Father is perfect.” I would smile and fight the urge to roll my eyes. “And Jesus was only person to ever walk the earth who was perfect–and even he was tempted.” I never told her that didn’t sound like perfection to me. I was pretty sure I was above temptation.
My ego helped me through a lot of difficult times but obviously got in the way more often than not when coupled with my perfectionist streak. Pride resulted in migraines and health problems and eliminating all remnants of a social life by the time I was a teenager. I had other things to attend to than the frivolity of the young, I thought.
So, how did I finally learn that I cannot nor should not aspire to perfection–but can still make a positive impact on the world? I don’t really know. I do know that Mama’s words echo in my mind during every yoga practice, every professional conflict, and every quiet moment of self-doubt.
I also know that this is the one area that I feel like my MS has helped me to improve. My diagnosis felt like I was branded: MS, flawed. I had to accept that I cannot change my condition. I can strive to be a success story though. Mama reminded me of that when she visited for first formal MS visit to the neurologist.
This lesson and this trial with MS has helped me to create a much more balanced outlook on life, and on myself. I know I am doing the best I can–and I will always do the best I can at everything. But I won’t be perfect. MS reminds me of this daily. I cannot even pretend to be perfect. I take a handful of pills each day. I experience pins and needles all the time. I know the names of all the MRI techs in the area. …Yep. This mind and body are far from perfect. I accept that. And I don’t need to be perfect to make the world a better place. I do it every day.