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the perfect column
why it won't ever happen
by michelle von euw

There’s a word I removed from my vocabulary a long time ago that’s now creeping its way back into my life.

The word is “perfect.” I decided a long time ago that there’s no such thing as the perfect job, the perfect marriage, the perfect life, and I wasn’t doing myself any favors by striving for some idealistic unreachable goal that allowed no room for human error, and by definition, was unachievable.

It may be possible that I banned the word from my vocabulary in the several months before my wedding, when the pressure to plan the perfect day was at an all-time high. All that effort, all that time and money and stress, and yes, I loved the day, and I did my best to keep a level head throughout the process, but the need to obtain some mass-marketing high cost version of perfection is enough to make even the sanest girl want to burn her In Style wedding issues at the feet of Vera Wang and Martha Stewart.

Certainly my theories on perfect have been bolstered by the recent success of one of my favorite sports teams. The Patriots may have finished the regular season with a perfect 16-0 record, but I’ve heard nothing in the past two weeks –- and actually quite before that –- except how that perfection won’t actually be perfection unless the Pats keep winning, all the way through the Super Bowl. And even so, some will still claim their perfection is marred by the videotaping scandal that hit game one. One so-called sports expert even stated that the Patriots didn’t actually have a perfect season; rather, he considered them 13-3, as they won three very close games in the final minutes of play.

On the last weekend of 2007, my hometown paper ran a piece focusing on perfect Boston moments, and inviting readers to their website to post their own. I mentally assembled my list (the stuffed French toast at Zaftigs, the “P through Z” row at Newbury Comics, the skateboarders at Copley, Fenway Park during the offseason), but found instead of people posting their own beloved Boston landmarks, most of the discussion was focused on just how far from perfect the city itself is.

The problem with perfection is any time we attach that word to something, it almost immediately highlights the flaws. What’s perfect? U2’s The Joshua Tree. The first season of “Veronica Mars.” The indy movie Once. The Red Sox winning the World Series.

But upon further investigation, everything on my list has something that deviates it from perfect. “Exit.” That episode about the stolen dogs. That one song the guy sang to the girl that was too long and just a little bit overwrought. The fact that the Sox clinched in Colorado and not at home in Boston.

The perfect Christmas took a big hit this year when my parents spent eight hours in the emergency room with my uncle on December 24; my perfect week home marred by watching the toll sickness has taken on my family, who’ve had a particularly difficult fall. Since I’ve moved away, Boston has become a sort of perfect ideal for me, but five minutes in the 20 degree weather and then hearing everyone’s nightmare stories about being stuck in their cars the week before after a freak Thursday snowstorm crippled the region, and suddenly home doesn’t seem so perfect.

All things that serve reminders of why I’ve avoided the word altogether –- if I don’t tag a moment, an experience, a work of art with the term “perfect,” than I can just appreciate it on its own merits, correct?

But it’s my football team that’s forced me to reevaluate that assumption. No matter what the out-of-town pundits say, the Patriots' regular season was perfect, as defined by the terms we’ve used to measure that word, and the reason it was so is the same reason Barry Bonds kept hitting home runs long after the steroid allegations destroyed his reputation. Sports are sprinkled with achievements, with examples of perfection that sparkle above all else. DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak. The ’72 Dolphins’ 17-0 season. Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 points against the Knicks.

Perfection gives us all something to strive for. It doesn’t matter if we actually reach those goals -– I know my life will never be perfect, but it is strung together with moments and snippets of possibilities that do fit the definition of perfect. Every region-crippling snowstorm begins with the first perfect flakes that dance from the sky, silver specks across a barren winter snowscape. No people are perfect, but pretty much everyone I love has done something at sometime to earn the term, particularly in a time of need: each one of us can identify moments in our lives when our friends and family have stepped forward with the perfect word, the perfect gesture for that exact moment.

I may never write the perfect story, but there are times when the tiny idea that I could write something that could be someone somewhere’s version of perfect keeps me at my laptop, tapping away at that possibility. My husband may not be perfect, but I believe he’s the perfect person for me.

Last August, I got a phone call from my friend Kate just after she’d given birth to her first child. “She’s perfect,” she said, and suddenly, that word seems exactly right.


Originally from Boston, Michelle is a writer, editor, instructor, obsessive sports fan, loud talker, quick laugher, new mom, and chances are, she watches more television than you do. Follow her on Twitter at michellevoneuw

more about michelle von euw


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jael mchenry
1.11.08 @ 11:01a

This is so true -- there's really nothing without flaws, and yet, there are times and people and events where you just have to sigh to yourself and say, Yeah, perfection.

Maybe it's that we can't create anything perfect, but we can experience something perfect, if we're lucky.

maigen thomas
1.12.08 @ 9:46a

Oh, that was a lovely read. I, too, hate and love the word perfect for what it does and doesn't mean.

tracey kelley
1.14.08 @ 1:11p

"perfect for me"

That's it, right there. So many of us would be far happier if we kept that first-person perspective in mind.

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