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Memphis Daily News
Love for the Perfectly Imperfect
May 26, 2016
By Dr. Mary C. McDonald

When I was in third grade, there was a saying posted in the front of the classroom that read “Practice Makes Perfect.” I read it so many times that eventually it became a way of approaching every task, a way of thinking.

So I practiced achieving that goal of perfection. I practiced spelling words, math problems, basketball and the violin. Once, I even practiced carrying a cake. That was the time I learned about being perfect.

Each year my parochial grade school celebrated the pastor’s birthday by holding an assembly to “surprise” him with a cake and sing “Happy Birthday.” When I was in fifth grade I was chosen to carry the cake to present to him. For days before the event I practiced carrying a cake down the 13 steps from the first floor of the school to the basement hall. I wanted to be perfect, and practice would insure that.

The day finally arrived. I stood on the landing at the top of the stairs. The pastor was seated in a chair below. The students started to sing. I was three steps into my decent when I tripped. I managed to regain my balance and a firm hold on the plate, but the cake took flight. The singing turned into a collective gasp, and, in what can only be described as very slow motion, the cake rotated in midair and landed right in the pastor’s lap.

The silence was deafening as the pastor, covered in cake, rose from his seat and ascended the stairs. When he reached the step where I stood, frozen, he put his arm around my shoulders, turned to the crowd and with a booming voice said, “Now that’s what I call a birthday surprise!”

Everyone cheered. That’s when I learned about perfection. In that compassionate gesture, I learned that being perfect does not feel as good as being loved. I learned that perfection is not the goal, love is.

Love happens in the ordinary events of daily life. It catches us by surprise when it comes disguised as kindness, as compassion, as a whisper of encouragement. Society seems to dictate that only what is perfect is worth having, worth loving. You are told that perfection brings love, and the more perfect you are, the more you achieve, and the more you have, then the more you are loved. Nothing could be further from the truth when that kind of perfection becomes the goal.

I don’t really believe that practice makes you perfect, but it makes you a lot better than you were before you practiced. Continuous improvement is a worthy goal, even when keeping your eyes on the prize is difficult in a world filled with distractions and challenges.

If you feel as if you still have a long way to go, then getting there is easier when you discover what it is you really should practice. Practice respect. Practice the courage to overcome failures. Practice making a positive difference in the lives of others. Now that’s perfect!

Contact Dr. Mary C. McDonald, a national education consultant, at 574-2956 or visit

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