Inspiration often strikes me at the most unlikely times. I’ve been thinking about writing more, and I have poured over a long list of potential topics. None of them have struck me with a bolt of enthusiasm or authenticity. But this morning, as I walked along the beach with my mother and brother, it all came to me at once. This is as close to perfect as it gets.
I’m a firm believer in ratings. On a scale of 1 to 10, how entertaining was the movie? How difficult was the test? How delicious was the fettuccine? But there isn’t really much of anything in this world that warrants that perfect “10.” The reason is likely due to the potential for improvement that nearly everything innately possesses. There can always be something more done to bring us closer to that ideal, closer to perfection.
As I walked along the Gulf Shore today, I said out loud at least a dozen times … “What a perfect day!” The weather was in the mid 70’s, the sun was warm, the breeze was cool, and there were virtually no clouds in the blue sky and no humidity hanging in the air. The water was crystal clear and you could see down to the individual grains of sand as the tiny bait fish scurried past the egrets, seagulls, and sandpipers who were casually looking for their next meal. I picked up some shells, put my toes in the water, and felt the warmth on my cheeks. Being with family this week has been my much-needed therapy, and the cure for just about anything is salt water: tears, sweat, or the sea. Naples has brought me all three this week, and this seemingly perfect day at the ocean was a reminder of just that.
But was it true perfection? No, of course not. I stepped on a jagged rock, it was a little tough to walk in the soft sand, my knee was bothering me, and my mind was full of a thousand other thoughts distracting me from the natural beauty around me. I would give it a solid “9.5” on a scale of 1 to 10.
This number nine rolled around in my head for a while as I thought about my rating system. I’ve given many things some version of a nine: a solid nap on the couch, a delicious home-cooked meal, a great pair of shoes, my favorite Led Zeppelin song, the view from the top of a mountain, and even a wonderful friendship. We also run across the number nine in a variety of ways in our culture. We “dress to the nines,” because it’s a way to express fashion of a high caliber. In literature, J.R.R. Tolkien created the Fellowship of the Ring, consisting of nine companions. We describe the purity of chemicals in nines, cats have nine lives, and we have nine justices on the Supreme Court.
It’s also not lost on me that the bible is filled with numbers and verses and the number nine is one that stands out for a couple of important reasons. There are nine choirs of angels, acting as intermediators and messengers to the prophets. St. Jerome believed that each soul has an angel commissioned to guard it from the moment of birth, our “guardian angels.” There are nine fruits of the Holy Spirit – faithfulness, gentleness, goodness, joy, kindness, long-suffering, love, peace, and self-control. All of these things I strive for every single day. More significantly, Christ is said to have died at 3:00 PM, the ninth hour of the day. This is why the number nine is used to symbolize a sense of finality and completeness.
St. Augustine is credited with saying that, “this is the very perfection of a man – to find out his own imperfections.” Even though all of those wonderful experiences and memories of my life came in at a rating less-than 10, they make up the whole sum of who I am and why I can look at my perfectly imperfect life and thank God for my many blessings. This Thanksgiving week, and even during the upcoming season of Advent, I encourage you not to seek perfection. Do not beat yourself up for your shortcomings. Don’t worry about the things you can’t control. And if you are five forkfuls into your stuffing before you remember to say the blessing, God will understand. Live in the Nines. Be thankful for the Nines. Look at those moments and pieces of your life that would sit comfortably and easily in that range. Whether it’s a 9.2 family night Christmas movie, a 9.6 pumpkin pie, or a 9.9 kiss – take heart in those nines. Those are our versions of perfect – our little pieces of heaven on earth.