For much of this year, even on summer days of merciless heat, a patch of my driveway seemed covered in frost — a pleasant illusion caused by a home improvement project that went slightly off-course.

Our daughter, a recent college graduate who was preparing to move away, had taken her bedroom vanity out in the yard to give it a new coat of spray-paint. She was careful to set down newspaper to catch drips, but she didn’t anticipate how far the paint would drift on the wind. A thin mist of white settled onto the pavement, which looked rather snowy as it dried, like the background of a Christmas card.

Although I scrubbed the spot a bit with solvent, the stain remained. I came to accept the blemish and then, in an odd way, to welcome it. It showed me that my daughter was willing to try something new, even at the risk of making a mistake.

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There are other modest monuments to error around our place, evoking ambitions that somehow fell short. Our son, a high school student, acquired a few cattle troughs to build a hydroponic garden, a scheme that went grandly for awhile before life took his attentions elsewhere. The great rubber bins are stacked along the fence, creating a tableau that less tolerant members of the household have called an eyesore. They seem to me not so bad a thing, representing a hope not yet fulfilled, though it one day might be.

Those who work with words, as I do, have their own mementos of misfires. The drawers of my home office contain rejected manuscripts and rough drafts that remain unrefined. A writer creates a lot of work that never sees the light of day.

All of this has come to mind as another season of New Year’s resolutions calls us to pursue perfection. A spotless new year gives us the hope that we can attain some new level of purity, too.

Google “perfect,” and the idea of flawlessness as a cultural ideal quickly becomes obvious. My own online search turned up references to the perfect protein bar, perfect fitness and a tutorial for cooking the perfect prime rib. One can, if the internet is to be believed, buy the perfect blouse, acquire a perfect sports bra, have a perfect wedding and even install a perfect kitchen drain. Why settle for a merely adequate kitchen drain, after all, when you can have a perfect one?

With age, one tends to become suspicious of perfection, alert to the problem of the perfect becoming the enemy of the good. Those afraid of less than perfect results, in other words, might decide not to try at all.

The faint white blotch on our driveway has finally vanished, slowly erased by two seasons of rain. Even so, I will try to remember, as a new year unfolds, that we also grow when we make mistakes.

 

Follow Danny Heitman on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.