When I came across this dictionary definition of “perfect” this afternoon – “as good as it is possible to be” –it came to me, in a flash, that my students are always perfect. In the face of the seeming ludicrousness of that statement, let me stand by it and say that it does seem to me, now that I think about it, that each of my students – and their English teacher, for that matter – is, at any given moment, as good as he or she can possibly be, at least for that particular moment. At 9:07:53 a.m. or at 1:26:31 p.m., each of us is precisely what we must be at those exact moments in the history of the universe. We are as good as we can possibly be for that specific instant. I think the reason we so often get lost in making judgments about worse, good, better, and best is that we have the all-consuming habit of comparing ourselves at different moments: I’m not as good this moment as I will be in some future moment, or as I was in some past moment. We see ourselves as worse or better or best simply because we live more in the past and future than in the present, and thus we are constantly making comparisons and passing judgments. The plain truth, however, is that my students and I – and all of us – live only in the exact present moment, which is always, to use a current cliché, just what it is. At 10:42:12 a.m. on September 27, 2010, only that moment exists, and it – and we – are as good as we can possibly be right then and there. When the next moment arrives, we will no doubt be different from the previous moment, and for that new moment, we will be, as usual, a perfect fit. As I thought about this curiously astonishing fact this afternoon, I was sitting in a lawn chair watching leaves float down from the trees, and it occurred to me that we would never think of saying, “Oh too bad. That leaf floated down in an imperfect way”, or “I wish those leaves could do a better job of falling to the ground.” No, we seem to instinctively realize that falling leaves always do their handsome tasks in perfect ways, and it now seems to me, surprisingly enough, that my students and I do too.
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