Founder’s Forum: The “Perfect” Folktale

J.B. Lester

By JB Lester

By the time you are 70 years old, you have plenty of memories to keep you going. Some are great and some are, well, better forgotten. And yet, we can’t forget our faux paws. Being in the publishing business, I have had a common nightmare over my 44 years in this business. My worst fear is that I published a newspaper or magazine with blank pages. I never did that, but other mistakes appeared often. I figure I have been a part of about 1,184 newspapers and magazines between my years at the Webster-Kirkwood Times and The Healthy Planet magazine. That’s a lot of opportunity to make mistakes. Like the time I wrote the caption for the photo of an American flag for Flag Day and I wrote “Flay Day”. A simple typo but I never lived that one down. I can honestly say I doubt that any of these 1,184 editions were published without an error. And that drove me nuts for years and years. Why can’t my efforts be perfect, with no mistakes? Then after years of angst, I realized that there is no such thing as perfect. Oh, sure, there is the word “perfect” and it means “having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be.” Luckily for me, that leaves the definition open for interpretation, “as good as it is possible to be.” And considering that humans are flawed creatures, just about any mistaken action could be considered as good as it is possible to be “at that time.” Now that I am done rationalizing my mistakes, I am hoping that my endeavors in retirement will be held to more humble standards. Let’s face it, we spend most of our lives trying to live up to something or someone. We try to make our teachers happy, our coaches happy, our parents happy, our spouses happy, our bosses happy… I have decided it is time to make myself happy and not be so darn critical of this grey-muzzled old man. Even though I had that cathartic moment that no one is “perfect” many years ago, I still go through some serious self-criticism on the golf course. But I now realize that my physical abilities are not the same as they were 30 years ago. I am going to be much more lenient in my retirement. I am going to give myself a break, cut myself some slack. Yes, I want to be as good as I can be, but now that I know “perfect” is open for interpretation I can take a pause from perfection and just be my normal self. Hey, if someone is perfect and never makes mistakes, they don’t learn anything. Right? That’s why we are so damn smart when we get old. We have made so many mistakes and have learned by them. I could write a book just on the errors of my ways. I could have a PHD in questionable judgment. The important thing is that we don’t keep beating ourselves up for it. I feel I have made up for much of my goofy years. I have atoned for many of my misguided choices. Now it is time to share my wisdom with my grandchildren. Whether they know it or not, grandparents have more to share than playing horsy on their knee or peek-a-boo behind a napkin. We have stories of mistakes made and lessons learned. These will be passed down from generation to generation. Folklore from the old folk. Listen and learn because there are plenty of hurdles coming your way and you will be challenged to make decisions that could impact your life forever. Just remember, you don’t have to be “perfect” to be a good person. You just have to share what traps and travails you have encountered and how you dealt with adversity. Let your grandchildren know you have made some blunders and bloopers. That day I realized that mistakes were going to happen no matter how hard I tried to avoid them, was the day I set myself free. Old timers like me have a story to tell and what kind of a tale would it be if everything happened perfectly? Nothing to overcome, no conflicts and no lessons learned. When you sit down to tell your grandchildren your own personal folktale, make your castle tall and surrounded by fire-breathing dragons and ugly trolls. Let them know you were inside the castle huddled in a corner, scared and unsure. Then as the dragon and trolls approached the front gate, you ran toward the drawbridge, tripped over cobblestones and chickens, but you still were able to close the gate just in time and save the kingdom. You weren’t “perfect”, but you got the job done. So, you were “as good as it was possible to be” at that moment in time. And that’s all you can ask of yourself.