We imagine that we we want perfection and order, when the key to happiness is appreciating the beautiful chaos of nature, children, and life.
Living Near Nature
When I first moved back to Louisiana after my medical training, I lived on the Bayou Courtableau, in the middle of nowhere. There were a number of camps around, but very few people actually lived there. It was quiet and gorgeous and idyllic. When the Bayou rose, parts of my yard would flood and I could watch from my screened porch as egrets and herons hunted through the water a dozen yards away.
Being so remote, and with that sort of frequent water & mud, my yard was hardly a showpiece. But I still mowed it, and I remember how nice it looked with the trim lawn. I liked it.
But I also liked it when it was overgrown with weeds and flowering plants. It wasn’t so orderly, but it was teeming with life, insects and birds and lizards and grass snakes and others. It was beautiful chaos.
Eventually I moved to town. But after living in Lafayette for 30 years, my family and I have moved out to a lake, and nature surrounds us. It’s messier, wasps and fire ants and snakes and buzzards, and even coyotes. Coyotes got our cat, and my wife & kids still grieve. But we live in a place that, once again, teems with life.
When I look through a decorator or other fashion magazine, I see order: everything in place, everyone in place, no dirt, no mess, no flaws. Everyone is beautiful, and everything about them is beautiful.
It’s seductive. I imagine from time to time we all covet that sort of perfection. Some of us covet it all the time, and dedicate our lives to appearances of flawlessness. I remember overhearing a man talking about how hard he was working to ensure that his lawn was nothing but uniformly green St. Augustine grass, thick, neat edgings, and without crab or monkey grass.
Those are the yards we see in the home magazines. They look nice. Maybe too nice. To my mind, they look a bit sterile.
Which if you think about, all those homes and fashion models look a bit sterile. In the magazines they look perfect, they look (pun intended) perfectly two-dimensional. There is no dirt, there is no action, there is no life. Because that is what sterile means: no life.
And maybe that’s what perfection means.
My wife sometimes frets about keeping the house orderly with two children. They mess it up faster than she and I (mostly she) can clean it. The yard is largely my responsibility. (My wife occasionally gets fed up with my sloth and grabs the lawn mower. It needs repairs just now. As I told the kids, “No mow.”) The kids’ toys are invariably scattered about the yard and front porch.
As I have noted before, my wife is really good at purging, her friends comment on it frequently and even envy her. She has broken me of a lot of my materialism. As a grandchild of the Depression, it’s hard to get used to just giving things to The Arc or The Salvation Army. My parents had so little growing up, and they instilled in us an aversion to waste. As a booklover/Bookscrounger, it’s doubly hard to get rid of books. It takes some practice, I have to keep telling myself that I can get any book I really need at the library or on Alibris. But her constant effort makes our lives simpler and happier and more focused, and it keeps our home more orderly.
Having said that, I frequently think that I prefer having at least some toys, and noise, disturbing the order. Paper and toys scattered around, children singing or playing, is a beautiful chaos, it is the stuff of life. It means that my kids are happy, and enjoying life.
It’s not completely orderly. It’s not always neat. It’s hardly perfection.
But perhaps it’s ideal.
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