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Food for ThoughtApr/May 2012 Issue

The Myth of Perfection

©Thinkstock 2012/iStockphoto

©Thinkstock 2012/iStockphoto

Living with less than the average bear can be a daunting proposition. Food and chemical challenges remind us daily of the tightrope we walk. The fact that we are doing it in a tough economy doesn’t make it any easier. Until such time that our products are priced comparably to those in the mainstream, we shoulder an added burden for our necessities and pleasures. We do without and learn to be creative.

So how do we hang on to our joie de vivre—live safely and in abundance—without feeling deprived? Mystics and seekers often talk about detachment, the concept of interior freedom from clinging and grasping. Many of us, myself included, hold tightly to an idea of perfection that goes something like this: If the store stops carrying my ideal gluten-free cookie or brownie or pie, my life as a non-baker is over or my dinner party is ruined. Or if my child does not get a cupcake when all the other kids get cupcakes, she will spend the rest of her life in therapy tracing every disappointment to that pivotal pre-school moment.

Some days we coast along in the zone. Others are a struggle from the second we open our eyes. Why, we ask, when we’ve learned all the rules of our particular sensitivity, shouldn’t every day be smooth like the one before? This is the myth of perfection.

Living well is not a sprint; it’s a long-distance race. A balanced life is fluid and ever-changing, not only day-by-day but sometimes moment-by-moment. The goal is not to allow ourselves to be driven by an unrealistic need to be perfect but to remain, cliché that it is, connected to what matters most—friends, family, a circle unbroken by our special requirements. Simply put, balance is the idea that success cannot be canceled by the inevitable setbacks—but made stronger by them. A full and rich life does not result from an experience we can point to; it accumulates.

When we let go of our all-or-nothing approach, we discover a satisfaction that we haven’t been looking for. Instead of clinging to the idea that there is one scented candle or room spray that won’t cause a reaction, we open the windows wide and remember deep in the DNA the fragrance of fresh air on our sheets. We see the glory of a creamy risotto studded with porcini and Reggiano. We can’t imagine it was our second choice.

A good parent keeps her child from danger, no matter the cost. We are human shields: a stray peanut may as well be a bullet. But we can’t keep our children from disappointment, nor should we try. Difficulty is what stiffens the spine. It’s what allows us to grow and be flexible and become creative, realistic adults. And it is often the motivation for real achievement. How can we keep our children from that?

This is what I tell myself when that old all-or-nothing urge strikes me: Every day contains breakfast, lunch and dinner and a couple of snacks. That’s 1,825 eating opportunities a year, give or take leap years. If I miss one, there’s another one coming right up.

Relax. Breathe. Tomorrow is another meal.

Novelist and poet Jax Peters Lowell, author of The Gluten Free Bible and other books, has been gluten free since 1981. She lives in Philadelphia.

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