Themes from a book I just finished reading, a talk in church last Sunday, and a Japanese poem came together for me this week. The book is “Second Wind: one woman’s midlife quest to run seven marathons on seven continents,” by Cami Ostman. I learned about it from the author’s daughter-in-law, while she was applying make-up to my face in a store in the local mall. The author is a therapist whose early family and religious experiences made her feel she had to meet the expectations set for her by everyone but herself. Over time, long-distance running helped clear her head of these pressures to please. She said, “I didn’t want to be perfect any more. It was as simple as that. I didn’t want to be a perfect wife, a perfect daughter, or a perfect employee, sister, therapist, driver, credit card holder or Christian.”
I heard a similar message from an assistant minister who spoke about a rigid parent, and religious and cultural expectations that turned her into a pleaser. She told the congregation that until recently she felt the need to be the perfect student, the perfect wife, the perfect mother and the perfect employee. After divorcing, seeing her children grown and well, and studying in a new religious tradition, she began to push aside the need to be perfect. She wants to accept herself and others, “just as I am, just as they are.”
Finally, the haiku by Ryokan. Here is my favorite translation: Showing front, Showing back, Maple leaves fall. Gregg Krech, author of Naikan, gratitude, grace, and the Japanese art of self-reflection, interprets the poem in this way. “It is a simple but lovely poem with a wonderful lesson about life. When a maple leaf falls it just falls. It does not try to conceal one side of itself from the rest of the world. It does not try to ‘look good’ to others. When Ryokan saw the maple leaf, he became aware of his continuing efforts to show only his best side.”
In my novel-writing class, November marks the beginning of critique groups. We will share pieces of our writing, give and receive feedback. I hope I remember Ryokan when it’s my turn to read or to comment.