Colin and I went walking yesterday through the subdivision to the south of ours. It’s called “Abercrombie Woods,” which implies the appropriate amount of neauveau riche pretention. The houses are quite impressive and nice looking, but not to the point that you feel like you need written permission to stroll along the sidewalks. The houses are arranged quite pleasantly in a manner that at least gives the appearance of preserving the natural state of things. It’s a very quiet neighborhood with a lot of tall trees and a manmade creek that traipses clumsily into twin ponds separated by a somewhat steep, heavily wooded embankment. All in all, it’s a great place for a walk.
And although I have absolutely nothing against the people who live there (eveyone I’ve met seems genuinely delightful) a feeling of uneasiness struck me about halfway through the walk as I noticed for the 342nd time how almost every landscape is so impeccably maintained. The word that came to mind was pressure. What immense pressure every resident must feel to uphold the standard of outward perfection. How their hearts must backfire with terror when a weed infiltrates their rose bushes or a brick gets dislodged from its pristinely paved settlement french curving around the patio garden. Going on vacation must induce immeasurable stress, never knowing if the neighbors are keeping too close an eye on your browning, dissheveled lawn while you and your family are trying to relax in Bermuda. That can’t be fun.
It soon hit me that the unyielding pressure for perfection is not at all confined to one neighborhood or even one type of neighborhood. It’s everywhere. Last Christmas I discussed the idea that a big and boisterous Christmas is perfectly wonderful despite the common theory that it represents materialism and self-promotion at its worst. And here in the middle of July I knew for certain that the holly jolly excess of Christmas is a miniscule novelty compared to the proud perennial peacock parade of everyday life. This, the daily struggle to show our just-right status (never too low, but also steering clear of too grand) is the true definition of a garish display of depravity.
It’s just never enough to be God’s creatures that enjoy where we live and who we are. We have to spend all our time eliminating anything that would expose us as imperfect and compiling all the stuff that renders us superficially special.
I was saddened to be a part of the problem (even though I’m especially terrible at playing the game . . . perfection does not become me) until I came across the first of the two Abercrombie ponds. I looked for a crane that is always bathing leisurely in a watery spot set far back from the walking path but still clearly visible to even my nearsighted naked eyes. I forgot about society for a second and decided to lift Colin out of his stroller to get a closer look at one of the coolest birds I’ve ever seen in the wild.
Carrying Colin, I gingerly stepped over the rocks that covered a big black corrugated plastic pipe connecting the twin ponds, and tried to silently step along the steep grassy bank. As I broke out my phone/camera and neared the large bird, it sensed my presence. It wasn’t startled, but it was too proud to be photographed by a commoner like myself. So it reared its graceful head high, pointed its slender dagger of a beak toward the sky and unfolded its wings like two sails. The take off was far from effortless. The force exerted by each powerful wingstroke was audibly impressive as I heard the air disturbance echo off of the surrounding trees. The crane didn’t go far. It glided away for just a moment and then swooped back to the lofty top of a tree overlooking the pond.
From its haughty perch, the crane looked down at me as if waiting for me to leave it alone. It wasn’t afraid of me, it just preferred not to mingle with the likes of us. And then a little ray of truth connected us in a gaze of realization. This crane, a graceful picture of regal elegance, didn’t have to manufacture its status. It was beautiful in its own right. It didn’t need a lawn or a patio or a brick-faced house. It didn’t need designer labels, cute shoes, highlights, power tools, muscle cars, or witty words. It was awesome as it was. And it felt no pressure to be anything more.
So I’ll keep trying not to pretend that I’m anything better than what I am. I’m God’s kid, a sinner, redeemed by His grace. Anything I add to the picture will only cheapen it.