It is a feeling of anxiety, of intense preoccupation. It begins from a part of your body, mostly your stomach or your chest. It wells up inside of you, fills up your lungs, and then suddenly sends a minor contraction. A slight shortness of breath, a fleeting sense of panic, but you cannot exactly put your finger on what it is that is causing such nuisance. It’s there, it makes its presence known, yet its cause remains ambiguous. Your stomach may grumble, and let out odd sounds of protestation. You try to recall when it is that you last ate. But no, it is not hunger — the savor of the roasted chicken you ate a couple of hours ago is still lingering in your mouth.
It sends a shudder up my mother’s spine as she prepares dinner for the annual family gathering. She’s doubled over the kitchen counter, rubbing the already spotless knives and spoons. With each rub, the feeling of anxiety intensifies. It moves to her hands. They start shaking slightly. She starts seeing spots where there aren’t. She has a taste of the chicken she’s being trying to get just write since morning. She takes another bite, just to make sure. What if it’s too rough? Not moist enough? She could just imagine the guests trying to bite the chicken, but they can’t bring themselves to swallow it. She considers dumping it in nearby garbage, and starting over again. What about the juice? Are the oranges fresh enough? She took a sip and she thought she felt a bit of sourness in it. She wasn’t sure, but it was better to get some new oranges. After all, it was better to be safe than sorry. Sometimes, the questions multiply; the uncertainties become overwhelming, the ambiguity of the guests’ responses slowly suffocate her. Right then and there, it ends up with her being in full-blown panic, running around the heart aimlessly, looking for something to adjust. Maybe it’s that cooking the ‘’perfect dish’’ would make her feel like she has her life together; that she is in control. She may be channeling all her frustrations and disappointments of life at the juice, or the plate of chicken. But it’s not about the plate, or the knives. It rarely has to do with that.
It’s there, when my grandmother is sitting alone, in the dimly lit living room, early morning, knitting a sweater. She is crunched over her work, the hook held between the index and thumb of one hand, with the other one supporting the already-knit part. The thread placed over the end of the hook forms a hole. With a movement of the thread, a second loop is created. The hook moves through the two loops to create only one, this time, and so on. Her eyes fixed on her task, she is focused on making it as precise as possible. She knows if she makes one slight mistake, she’d have to start the knitted part over again. ‘’Every action you take have to be thought over, again and again’’ she’d always say. ‘’God gave us logic for a reason, sometimes you can’t afford to make mistakes.’’
It’s in my father’s fidgety movements, as he sits on his office desk, editing a proposal. Backspace, backspace…back…intruding…backspace, backspace…interfering? highlight. Backspace, backspace, backspace… He holds his hand to his temples, and press on them really hard. His chest might tighten, too. He covers his employees’ papers in red ink, crossing out entire pages of projects they’d probably spent endless hours working on. It would have been better, they should have worked harder.
My mom’s new dish could have been worse than the one before. She couldn’t see that, she wanted it to be perfect. Instead of being comfortable with the work he’s done, my father, aiming for the exemplary essay, ended up not writing anything at all. They were seeking a perfect that wasn’t even true, did not exist in this world. This ‘’perfection’’ was undefined, it was vague and therefore stirred deep fear and anxiety in their hearts as they could never reach it. When I think back to the times I felt I had to achieve perfect grades, perfect friendships and relationships, I realize I may have been overlooking better things. When my grandma used to tell me to be careful not to make mistakes, my anxious mind would hear ‘’aim for perfection, make no mistakes at all’’. It took me a while to recognize how miserable it made me. To realize that human nature is imperfect. It is by seeking flawlessness that we bring upon our own drowning.