Recently I’ve heard a lot about why we should not remember our loved ones as perfect people. My mom had a conversation with me recently about this regarding my brother, Nathaniel, who died 12 years ago. Then, I was listening to a podcast called “Terrible, Thanks For Asking” and the discussion was about 2 mothers who lost their husbands when their children were very young and the dangers of remembering only the good when telling their children about their fathers. Last Sunday I went to my grandparents’ church (and managed not to burst into flames) to celebrate my paternal grandfather turning 95 years old and the sermon was about the people who were not disciples who did the right thing because they were human and the disciples who did the wrong thing because they were human, because being human means you will sometimes do a little wrong and a little right. Even with living people, we judge ourselves based on what others share with us of their lives and often what is being shared is only the good/brag-able moments.
You may be thinking, what’s wrong with only seeing and remembering the good in others. If you are, I’m jealous of you. I can’t speak to the minds of people who have never suffered self-esteem issues or depression or anxiety, but, now that I know I’m not alone in this struggle to try to live up to unrealistic standards set by only seeing the good others do, I feel obligated to speak out.
I’m not saying we should speak ill of people in order to make ourselves better, that’s just as bad. But, remembering that everyone makes mistakes, struggles, and that someone who was really great in one area you struggle in may have been horrible in an area you don’t even have to try to be good at, can help break the stigma of not being perfect or happy or financially successful or whatever other measure of success we feel burdened by in society.
For example, we can talk about my brother, Nathaniel. He was a great environmentalist and volunteered for many great causes. He went to Guatemala when he was 16 to learn Spanish and had planned to join a Habitat for Humanity Project while he was down there. The Habitat for Humanity Project was cancelled so, instead of just taking the time to enjoy hiking and site-seeing, he helped a town update their garbage disposal system by making separate holes to put their garbage in. One was for compost and the other was for everything else. He then taught them how to separate the waste and how to use the compost. He also used to help people register to vote and offer rides to the polls on election days. He helped start a community garden in Vermont, he built his own kayak and he was a very talented and smart environmental engineer. These are the things we are expected to remember about our loved ones, but as time goes on, if this is all I remember, he becomes like a misty, hazy memory of some unreal idol that I have no hope of being as good as. The other things I remember about him that help make him more real to me were his really horrible puns, and how much pleasure he took in telling them (a flaw we both share), and how much he used to tease me and always knew how to upset me most (I’m not exactly innocent in the sibling rivalry department either, but I mostly just annoyed him being the younger one). He was a bit overly-competitive which made him do stupid things like drink an entire bottle of tobasco sauce for a mere dollar or hold hot coal in his hand for longer than his friends could just to win. He drove way too fast and I still remember riding with him in an old Volkswagen Fox whose speedometer maxed out at 120mph and we were on back roads in New Hampshire at night in the rain and I looked over to see the speedometer needle shaking at 120mph as he whipped the car around corners. If you wanted to get somewhere quickly, he was the one to put behind the wheel, if you wanted to get there safely, maybe let someone else drive. He was a bit of a show off, but, of course, having been his little sister who both hated and idolized him growing up, I could tell it was partly because he didn’t really have much self confidence of his own, he had to have other people validate his successes for him to feel confident. I am similar to him in his need for validation, but thanks to my anxiety, I’m less likely to put myself out there to be validated. It’s not like I need to remember that one time when he was 10 and thought he could become a millionaire by mowing lawns to feel better about myself, it’s just nice to remember him as a whole person, screw-ups, imperfections and all. It means if he could do so many wonderful and great things, despite not being perfect, then I can do great things too. And also, I miss his imperfections just as much as his great deeds because that’s what made him who he was.
Again, this does not just apply to those who have passed on. With social media, it’s easy for us to share just our finest moments. “I got promoted”, “look at this beautiful piece of artwork I made”, “Doesn’t my garden look beautiful?”, “look at this great meal I made my family”, “My child is student of the month!” etc. What you are missing is that that promotion took struggling through years of anguish to find the right path and right job before finally being in a company who appreciates your strengths, or the artwork was made in a fit of depression and the picture was taken after moving all the evidence of bad house-keeping out of the way so as not to expose that this artwork was your only achievement through your struggle with mental illness this month, or that the garden was an escape from all the anxieties that have been building up at work or in your personal life and it only looks so beautiful because you were needing that escape so much lately, or the great meal you made was the one fancy meal a week (or month) because you feel bad that you feed your family pretty much the same boring/easy-to-make meals every other day (side-note, benefit to living alone is I make my meals only for myself, so if I get fancy, it’s because I was craving something new, otherwise, I’m perfectly fine with eating pretty much the same thing every day for a month). You don’t see that the child that made student of the month struggles with common sense things like not running across the road or remembering to tie their shoe. The point is, everyone has their imperfections, but we only show what we are proud of. I think it wouldn’t be a bad thing to start showing off some of our imperfections. When I hear friends and family tell me their imperfections, I feel closer to them because I already know I’m not perfect and I already know they are amazing (because, unless you’re an ass, you notice the good in your loved ones easily) and knowing we are more alike means that I can be amazing too!
If you are interested in the podcast, Terrible, Thanks For Asking, here is the link (both iTunes and RSS)
You might also like The Hilarious World of Depression
And if you want to hear about a wonderful with depression who airs her imperfections and gets lots of love for it, I recommend The Bloggess’s Blog and her Books: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Furiously Happy and her coloring book You Are Here.