It’s believed that the moon was formed when a protoplanet smashed against an infant earth, causing a large portion of earth’s matter to spew into space, which formed into the moon. This is what put the earth on its tilt. Were it not for this tilt, which gives us our seasons, much of more of the earth would face extreme heat or extreme cold, and life as we know it would be radically different … if there would be life at all.
But to pre-Galilean thinkers who were sold on the idea that everything in the universe was perfect, the idea that the earth was on an imperfect slant would have been blasphemous. If the definition of perfect is “without flaw in every way and having always been such,” then nothing is perfect. At least on the macroscopic level, everything, from the brightest white giant to the smallest flea, became what it is from baser elements and processes in conditions that are less than ideal.
But who sets the ideals anyway? As was contested in the days of Galileo, do spots on the sun make the sun less perfect? If so, in what ways is it less perfect? We now know that the sun’s spots are caused by concentrated lines of the sun’s magnetic field as they jut out into space. Such a magnetic field exists on earth as well and is crucial for the deflecting of cosmic rays that would otherwise cause harm to the earth. Thus the sun’s spots are not signs of decay like on a banana but indications that the sun is actually more perfect, exhibiting a natural phenomenon that is crucial to our existence.
If we define perfection as “pretty at first glance”, we’re bound to be disappointed, but if we set better criteria and look at the bigger picture, much of the universe (perhaps all of it) is more “perfect” than the ancients could have comprehended. And at the heart of it all is a paradox: perfection is achieved through imperfection.
Recently I’ve had the pleasure of watching one of my plays emerge from the sea of creation. Characters that were formerly nothing more than imaginary friends are now taking faces and voices. There will be a set, costumes, and an audience. My dream will be passed on to hundreds.
I asked myself, “what of my former attempts to produce this play? What of my former drafts? What of my other works that still haven’t seen the light of day or have fallen by the wayside? Has it all been for naught?” Of course not. Without the former drafts, my characters would be less formed than they are now. Perhaps they’d be missing limbs or (worse) have flat personalities. If I had gotten my wish and produced this play in college, the end result wouldn’t have been nearly as polished as it is now.
Every culture in the world has its version of the hero’s journey. The hero sets out on a quest. He meets opposition. He fails. He tries again. He fails again. While each attempt seems to push him further from his goal, miraculously, he’s actually getting closer, until BOOM! Climax. The whiny teenager has become a Jedi. The galaxy is saved.
It’s ironic that while this formula is at everyone’s heart, and we spend so much of our time fantasizing about it in the forms of stories, books, movies, and video games, we don’t often apply the formula to our own lives. At least I know I haven’t. When I plotted out my life as a boy, I demanded pre-Galilean perfection. Failure wasn’t an option. Even recently, as I’ve looked back over the last decade or so of my life, while much of it has been good, I’ve also been disheartened at missed opportunities, dead ends, and failures. I’ve failed to realize that like the sun’s spots, these “imperfections” really aren’t bad but are pieces of a grander plan. Perhaps like the earth’s tilt, my “failures” have been crucial for my ultimate good, or like the discarded drafts of my play, my previous attempts (while seemingly fruitless at the time) have actually made me what I am today. Without getting fatalistic, I can earnestly say it’s all for a reason.
No one wants to hear a story about a hero who never faced challenges or disappointments and always achieved his goal on his first attempt. When we reach the end of our mortal sojourns, I believe our most valuable possession, more than knowledge or experience, will be our personal narratives: the stories of how we gained our knowledge and experience. So let’s make them good and ripe with failure. There’s no other way to become awesome.