The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
December 12, 2007

The Perfection of Imperfection

I was going to post about feminine hygiene today. Don’t worry guys. You can read on safely. I’ll save that post for later. Instead, I’m inspired to write based on a beautiful post that I read this morning from blogger Chandra Sherin at Moonseeds.*  I just happened upon it while scanning blogs for the subject of plastic.

Chandra relates a story about being less than perfect in her struggle to find alternatives to plastic. She writes:

I look at the packaging of my breads, chips, toothpaste, apples, vegetables in my hands, and two of my reusable shopping bags are made of nylon which is made with oil, just as the baggies are for dog walks… I realize this… The truth of the situation is that if I were to live separate from plastic, I would not be living in this society. There is no purity, there is no perfection in this world. Our connections are linked and threaded through so deeply, there is no extrication of anything from anything else, at least not as things stand now. This does not mean that everything is futile. Action still has great impact and discernment still has enormous value. Sometimes it has to be “little by little”, as Dorothy Day would say.

And I cannot look at the daily defeats of plastic in my life each day and be defeated. This is an issue that is so urgent that we need to persist despite the thoroughness of its penetration in our lives. What a strange problem we have.

Chandra is a Christian, which I am not. And yet the way that she describes the interconnections among people and objects in the world transcends specific religions and gets at the universal heart of why we care about the earth.

Anyway, Chandra’s post reminded me of my own perfect imperfection Monday night. It was getting late, a little after 6pm, and I’d had a really crappy day. Headache. Sluggish. Cancelled my dental appointment and didn’t leave the house or even get dressed. Suddenly, I realized that our company Christmas party was the next day and I didn’t have a present for my “Secret Santa” partner. I didn’t have time or energy to make something. Crap!

Luckily, I live a few blocks from College Avenue in Oakland, a wonderful street full of small boutique shops. I throw a coat over my pajamas (really!) and rush over to Itsy Bitsy, one of my favorite stores, which carries all kinds of jewelry and small items made by local artisans. “I need a gift for a friend who collects dragonflies!” I cry with desperation, flying through the door 20 minutes before closing time.

The owner is one of the sweetest people ever. Our relationship is purely customer/merchant, we don’t even know each other’s names, but she gives me a warm smile of recognition each time I shop there and makes me feel at home. So after finding me the perfect dragonfly scarf and bracelet for my co-worker, Jo Anne, she reaches for a gift box. “Oh, no thanks,” I tell her, “I have plenty of boxes at home.”

“Well, then some tissue paper?”

“Oh no. I have a lot of tissue paper, too. I’ll just carry this home in my two hands. I live just a few blocks away.”

“Okay,” she sighs, and starts to put the bracelet in a tiny plastic baggie.

“Wait,” I start, “I don’t…”

“To protect it,” she says very gently, looking visibly pained that I might carry this precious little bracelet home in just my bare hands. And then it occurs to me that she just wants to give me something. She’s taken my money for the items. But she wants to give me something extra, and this is what she has to offer. So I shut up and accept her little plastic baggie in the spirit with which it is given. In this case, having that kind connection with another human being is worth more to me than worrying about the miniscule amount of plastic in that bag.

No, we can’t all be perfect. I try as hard as I can to find alternatives to plastic, but maybe sometimes it’s more important to concentrate on positive solutions and human connections rather than to live in a constant state of avoidance. Maybe next time I shop at Itsy Bitsy, I will think to bring my own little protective bag for the object I buy and use the opportunity to share my concerns about plastic packaging in a proactive way that is a gift to her rather than a rejection.

Ironically, my “Secret Santa” recipient, Jo Anne, was also my “Secret Santa.” We had drawn each other’s names. And intending to give me a non-plastic gift, Jo Anne decided to give me the gift of a night out at the movies (complete with dark chocolate bars to bring to the theater with me.) It wasn’t until I had opened the present and thanked her that she had the same kind of “Duh!” moment that has become a constant in my life. “The Cinemark gift card is made from plastic!” she exclaimed! Red-faced, she even offered to take it back and write me a check instead.

But you know what? We can only try so hard. I love the sentiment that went into this gift (and by the way, Jo Anne suggested that I blog about the gift card, so I’m not ratting her out!) and I’m not about to refuse anyone’s heart-felt offering in the name of strict environmentalism. After all, what are the reasons for all our environmental actions, if not our connections to one another and the life of this planet? Without connection, what do we have?

Tomorrow I’ll get back to blogging about practical plastic alternatives. I guess the retreat and the gift-giving season have me in a more reflective mood this week.

*[01/01/2012 Update: The blog at http://moonseeds.wordpress.com/ has since been removed.]

7 comments
Diane
Diane

I know I am years late to this party but I searched for a post like this specifically after this weekend. I went to buy coffee at a new place, took my jar, they were more than accommodating about putting coffee in the jar, sure no problem, I will tare the scale. Then she asked if I wanted it ground, I said yes, she dumped the beans into the machine and grabbed a plastic coffee bag. Apparently the jar will not fit under the machine. So I asked just to have the beans whole, I will grind them at home, save your bag. Too late, once in the machine the only way to get them out is to grind them, and they have to be ground into the plastic coffee bag, which fits that specific machine. I left with the plastic and my unused mason jar feeling defeated. This post was the perfect pick me up after all that.

sandy
sandy

You should have seen the mortified look on the Cashier's face the other night when I said I didn't want her to wrap the wet radishes in plastic prior to putting them in my tote. She said "I am sure you have your reasons" and was totally thrown off for the rest of our transaction.

moonseeds
moonseeds

Beth, Thanks for the link and your thoughtfulness. I appreciate your post much. Take care fellow earth warrior.Chan--Moonseeds

Anonymous
Anonymous

Hi, I've been lurking around your blog for only a little while, but I have to comment. This post & the one you linked to are so very great. Not only this time of year, but always. I'm just beginning to realize the magnitude of plastic's horrors, but at the same time, it's all around us. And it does do some good. There are medical plastic uses that literally save lives. And we have these little, seemingly inconsequential bits of plastic that signify connections between people. Can't lose sight of the forest for the trees, as it were.

abuddhistperspective
abuddhistperspective

Beth, thank you. It's so easy for us to get so wrapped up in "doing the right thing" that we can inadvertently hurt another's feelings and create an even greater harm. In a rush (and pajamas!) you picked up on the shop owner's thoughtfulness and responded in kind. A wonderful entry, especially at this time of the year.

Deb G
Deb G

I love that you wrote this, I think it's a very important point.

Burbanmom
Burbanmom

Great post, Beth! Especially this time of year, it's important to focus on the people in your life and let some of the plastic slide. Besides, all those New Year's resolutions will turn us back into petro-nazis soon enough!