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Deliberate Imperfection

I created a foot of shroud cloth today, weaving for my very first time. Melanie Wilder has set the loom up on the porch at Warren Wilson so I can weave and gaze at the mountains. Just beyond the porch is the field where the flax on this loom grew, and as I see it again, I am remembering summer, the towering thunderclouds on the horizon, the waving blue stalks of flax in bloom, red apples weighting branches, and insects making lazy loops around the verdant profusion. Today there is a lot more open space and sharp edges, and winter, being quite certain of itself. With snow on the way by morning, I lean into my down coat and towards the sunny side of the loom.

Melanie got me started, but even with her excellence and patience from years of experience teaching beginners, it took a while to get the hang of sending the shuttle through, placing my feet on the right pedal, and maintaining a consistent tension. Anyone would be able to tell where her section ended and mine began. My edges had uneven loops, and there were a few rows where I had my feet on the wrong pedals, giving the weft and warp a new pattern. With the latter error, I asked Melanie if I should unweave it, and her quick reply was to let it remain, explaining there are many cultures that deliberately include a mistake in their handwork – paintings, pottery, architecture, and weavings.

This was no intentional error, but having been described by my mother as a diagnosable perfectionist early in life--refusing, for example, to put my head underwater or go down the slide until I was certain it could be done without being killed by the process--I was intrigued to hear there were people who built a life that valued mistakes. For some cultures I learned, deliberate imperfection was a way to prevent the perfect Creator from jealously thinking we were engaged in one-upmanship. In researching further, I also found that Navajo women added an imperfect line to their pattern to give the spirit a pathway to move in and out of the rug, lest they be trapped in perfection. With intent, they used tiny flaws to demonstrate that their creation was magnificent because of its imperfection and impermanence.

In recent weeks, I’ve been in conversation with a woman whose body is giving many signs of what it cannot do anymore. Though no one can or will say for sure the season she has entered, she understands it is winter. She finds that the clearing out of hope for her body's restoration has given her heart much to say. One of her deepest griefs is the difficulty of finding friends who can imagine there would be beauty in her diminishment. They rally her to find a new treatment, quit her negative thinking, and ignore the swirling tea leaves in her cup. Her refusal to leave her imperfect and impermanent body out of the conversation has rendered her far fewer of them, just as she is finding more than ever to say about just how beautiful and amazing this life is.

These conversations put me in the mind of the flax stalks that not long ago stood in this field. For a short while, they occupied the interstice of earth and sky, bound below and free above as matter and spirit. She and I want to know how to be as they perfectly were, here and at the same time ready for whatever is next. But summer can't anticipate the perfection of its opposite season; it only knows to lay down its seeds in readiness for however they will be woven into something else.

I look at the spirit escape line I have unintentionally created in my shroud. Not deliberate, but perfect in how I can use it to float free of life's bindings. I think now that what my mother saw, was my young knowing that a thing could be done with grace and ease, if one carefully studied the movement of surrender. Even then, I believe I was learning to cultivate skillful wonder, not perfection. With each pass of the shuttle and tug on the beater, my shroud becomes more real and beautiful, and my permanence dwindles. And my satisfaction deepens to do just this--sit on a winter porch, press peddles and pass a shuttle, and weave my winding sheet.

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