We did it, my friend Sarah and I. She started it. I never would have. Too embarrassed. Not good enough. I should be better than I am, more advanced after all these years of studying French.
Susan Lebel Young, MSEd, MSC, lives and works in Southern Maine. Reach her at [email protected] or susanlebelyoung.com.
On our walk on Portland’s wide-open panoramic Eastern Prom, big enough for all the mistakes we would make, spacious enough to accept our snafus, she started to speak French and we spoke French back and forth. For an hour. For the whole walk.
I stammered and stuttered. So did she. I helped her with how to say, “every two weeks” – toutes les deux semaines – even though I had no idea of the correct translation. No matter. We had agreed to go for it, to swish away our lack of skill, and, as the Nike ad suggests, Just do it. She helped me with more than I can remember. We just kept on, saying, “We will do this.”
A real conversation blossomed, beyond “hi-how-are-you-good-weather-today.” She spoke of her French Level 3 classes, which were more advanced than mine. I told her how I bumbled through intermediate. We talked yoga, meditation, books we loved, croissants, our shared petite statures, her grandson River, my four grandkids, her baking, my suggestions for her baking and … well, on and on for an hour.
After yet one more faux pas, I dropped what I had heard so often, the advice to embrace “progress, not perfection.” I remembered a friend saying that progress IS perfection, that perfection blooms in the learning, that at least in this conversation, there was nothing to progress to, that the perfection shone in our trying, in our mistakes and in how we understood each other anyway in spite of a wrong tense here and a missed vocabulary word there.
Our stories of not good enough, of perfectionism, ring deeply in us no doubt from childhood, from how 98% on a spelling test seemed like a failure, how dieting to lose 10 pounds and losing 9 scolded, “never enough.” But can this moment be perfect since it can’t be any different than it is? If so, then grammatical errors show up as perfect, too. What if we assume that we always do the best we can in any given moment with the resources we have? Then, yes, this moment is perfect.
We walked and talked and stopped to breathe in the spaciousness of the bay and the islands, trying to articulate its beauty. Because of our pinky swear to speak no English, we resorted to hand gestures and body language for “What’s that word?”
At one end of the path, or more likely the start of a journey, we spotted a spray-painted message on the walkway, “Stand here to activate your superpowers.” We laughed. What if we could say, “I claim the superpower of, ‘I just do it, even making mistakes.’” What if we could say, “Superpower? Oh, I can have fun doing something badly?” What if, like Edison and his many failed attempts at the lightbulb, we keep on keepin’ on as a superpower? What if, at the end of life, we get to tell our loved ones hanging on our every word at our deathbed, “You want my advice? Go out there and just do it.”
What if humility is a superpower?
We did it. One whole hour. I did it wrong. She did it wrong. Parents with kids in strollers, adults and teenagers with dogs, all speaking English, stared at us as Casco Bay’s breezes flew away our errors. But we didn’t care because activating superpowers feels well, perfect.