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Perfectly Imperfect

By Anne Maxwell

Beyond the personal photos, resting next to post-its and a cup full of random pens on my desk lies a small, rectangle ceramic dish..

I’m certain most co-workers who happen by my workspace during the course of the day overlook both it and the quote imprinted upon its cornflower blue surface. But it catches my eye and I often think about the message found in the script that reads:

“Life does not need to be perfect to be wonderful.”

Annette Funicello, famed Disney child actor of the ‘50s who went onto star alongside Frankie Avalon in wholesome teen movies in the early to mid-‘60s such as “Beach Blanket Bingo,” spoke those words. When I received the piece as part of a gift from my sister a few years ago, the copy editor in me immediately skipped the message and went right to work.

“Her name’s spelled wrong in the attribute,” I said as I carefully re-read the text to be certain.  

“What are you talking about?” my sister said.

“Her name’s spelled wrong …. I mean, it says ‘Anette Funicallo’… that can’t be right. I’ve never seen Annette spelled like that and ‘Funicallo’ looks weird. I thought the end was spelled like ‘jello.’”

“Huh,” my sister replied, with a look that said, “Oh, no … here she goes again.” “I think it’s cute and you should take it to work.”

I’m not one to argue with my big sister, so I did. And -- as most big sisters are -- she was right. The imperfect piece with a punch of color made a nice addition to my cubicle collection. While the “error” had bothered me initially, I grew to like it.

And in time, I loved it.

Each time I saw it, I’d slowly start to smile to myself, deciding that the joke was really on me. Because what I saw as an “error” was really no error at all.

You see, Annette Funicello -- no matter how you spell it -- had a lot going for her. Google her if you don’t believe me. Beautiful. Talented. Serious singing chops. Walt Disney -- yes, the Walt Disney -- had made her a household name as a member of the Mickey Mouse Club and she then became enough of a star to have the option to scale down her career to focus on raising her three daughters. And then, life threw her a tremendous curve when she was diagnosed with the most severe form of Multiple Sclerosis in her 40s.

But as far as I’m concerned, that dark hour revealed her true light. She showed depths of courage in her battle with the disease, becoming a spokesperson and advocate for others fighting against its ravages.

Talk about finding beauty in a life that’s not perfect.

I think about my own life. And the red flair pen I loved to wield years ago as a desk editor at a daily newspaper. When I think about my past experiences, there are times I would give anything to wield that scarlett pen to make some corrections. Rewrite a decision. Edit spoken works. Script a different ending to previous chapter. The list goes on and on.

I’ve been guilty of putting happiness aside as I wait for this or that ship to come in. Looking past what’s all around me at some distant shore, missing the beautiful.

I’m roughly the same age Annette would have been when she was diagnosed. My husband and I have been blessed with four children, ages 11 to 22. There’s so many times I want to control an outcome or make sure things go just right for them, even though after two decades of parenting I should know that perfection is not only impossible, it’s cheats them out grasping the true graces that God gives us as part the journey.

I’m ready to let go of regrets and help them to understand the moments when things seemingly go wrong are the lessons to forever embrace. Broken hearts, failed dreams and painful missteps embody a bittersweet purpose. These imperfections inform future decisions, foster courage to try new things and set us free from taking ourselves too seriously. Missteps set a new course of direction when true north is nowhere to be found.

So yes, I am going to love that blue dish and put the red pen down. It’s time to appreciate the full range of hues that color life. It’s time to embrace all that’s perfectly imperfect.

Talk about beautiful.

Let’s find it together.

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