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Scotland Day Three - Imperfection

I spent day three making my way north to Inverness. I rented a car outside of Edinburgh, hopped into the right side and took off down the left side of the road (this makes it sound easy and carefree let me tell you I was actually riddled with anxiety). The driving turned out to be mostly okay. I made a few stops along the way at Castle Campbell and a Scone Palace. And then eventually I made my way up to Culloden Battlefield.

I've long loved Scotland. It all started with a love of Harry Potter and the backdrops of the movies. Once into adulthood, I started to learn of Scotland's history, my love grew more when I visited the first time in 2017, and even more as I delved into my ancestry in recent years. I think of Scottish history as the prequel to American history, and as someone with Scottish ancestry, I love to go back even further (hello Macbeth). There is such depth and longevity to Scottish history that America doesn't have, and it is so interesting to me.

I wanted to go to Culloden because I always think of that battle as the start of America in a way. It is also a place and event of deep reverence for Scotland, and I felt I shouldn't enter the Highlands without seeing the place where the clans and culture were taken.

I wrote that day:

"I walked most of the battlefield today. I saw the clan stones, the front lines, I walked through the dense bog and heather, imagining what this was like. I stood where those men ran, bled, and died in mass. Where the entire trajectory of this culture was altered forever. The grave markers were beautiful. They seem old as time, though they came so much later after the battle. The new state-of-the-art building and all of the fanfare around the rest of the place leave me unsettled. Would those men have wanted to be memorialized like this? Maybe they wanted the grandeur, but I think that they would have thought that was all a bit much. The beauty of the natural stones, imperfect now as they age with their moss, are just right. Dust to dust.

Time goes on. We memorialize a culture lost, lives lost, stolen, displaced. We clear a nation of its people, we disperse out, we fight again and again, we make new nations, we forget, we forgive, we move on, then we build buildings and charge entry to these historical places, we take 30 pictures to post on our instagram, we make TV shows about it.

We've lost so much. Imperfect humans we are."

The two hours following my time at Culloden were messy. I left this place of solitude and remembrance and entered back into the chaos, driving into the city center of Inverness. I was starving and had picked out the perfect restaurant on the river for dinner. The traffic was awful, I couldn't find parking and it was all parallel parking to boot, lots of one-way streets and tight turns, not great for my first day driving backwards. I was frustrated, and did I mention starving, with angry tears in my eyes I flipped around and found a grocery store - with a parking lot. I stocked up on food and snacks and ate in the car to tide me over. At this point, I was ready to go home. Not home, home, but whatever that meant here.

I stayed in Airbnbs throughout the trip, this evening was a beautiful bed and breakfast outside of Inverness. As I drove to it, I saw a large wooded area on my way. I thought I could use some time to decompress and eat dinner, so I stopped. My mind was still in a state of overwhelm and exhaustion. I made and ate a sandwich quickly and then hopped out of the car to go walk it all off.

I started hiking, vigorously. As I quickly got into the wood though, my mind was yanked away from all of my reeling thoughts as I saw that I was standing in what I can only describe as an enchanted forest.

Now I saw a lot of beautiful places on this Scotland trip (more on those in the days to follow), but I still remember this forest immediately taking my breath away. It was a subtler beauty, truly enchanting: vividly green and so dense that there was a darkness and a quietness to the wood. The birds sounded muffled, my footsteps were silent. It was completely exhilarating and calming, all at once.

I stopped and sat down, sticking my hands deep into the mossy floor of the forest. I then started walking, quickly again, this time to see more rather than dispel that agitated energy. I eventually came to a dead end - the path just ended. This was maybe the densest and darkest part of the forest. I took in a few breaths of that thick forest air, and I turned back and found another path. And another. I wandered and wandered in circles, not really worrying about finding my way back.

I questioned when I would stop, or why. It wasn't dark yet, and no one was expecting me, why wouldn't I just wander here a while more? There was a deeper peace here, an ease to my mind and my body that only this type of stillness could provide. Why go back to the chaos?

I eventually found a spot to sit down in the moss. The lovely thing about sitting in one spot in a forest is that you can zoom in. You have this one small area around you now to explore, you can get more granular, explore every petal and stem, every piece of moss and lichen. See what lives in this smaller scope.

I like to collect plants when I'm out and about. I stick them into the pages of my journal and let them flatten and dry there. A joy of going back through these writings is that I'm finding all of the beauty I had found then. Another bonus is they have somehow retained their color. I collected a small piece of purple heather from Culloden, it is still as vivid as when I picked it. As I sat in this forest, poking around and observing this smaller spot of earth, I found a beautiful leaf with two holes in it in a beautiful little pattern, probably caused by some fungi or bug. The pattern was nearly mirrored on the leaf, but it was not quite symmetrical. Close, but imperfect.

Imperfection. Something I try to ignore, I refuse to admit to it or see how it affects me.

It is funny that we strive for "perfection". Honestly, what does that even mean? It's not really possible when you think about it, and we know that.

Yet we try for it. Some of us spend our whole lives molding and morphing ourselves and sacrificing our identity to fit into whatever that word could mean. And I think it adds to that haziness of time and memory and a bone-deep exhaustion with the world around us. It causes us to doubt everything around us and hold it all at arm's length. Connection and empathy and slowness and seeking peace can be messy, those things can't live in the world of perfection.

So what if we instead strived for imperfection?

Things of true beauty are by nature imperfect. Beauty is the thing that stands out, just a bit, that subtly grabs at your attention. Something that presents itself as different enough to be worth noticing. It is the moment that doesn't go as anticipated, that forces you to open your eyes to what is in front of you. It is an unsteadiness that draws us into more depths. It is the not-quite symmetry that catches our eye and leaves you smiling. Beauty is in the irony, the questioning, the what-ifs, the hand-knitted sweater, the one-of-a-kind mug your brother made that tilts to one side, the oops-I-added-too-much-salt homemade cookies, the hike that went wrong that we all still laugh about. It is the forest you find when you aren't looking for it. It is the gentle state of vulnerability where you can whisper your troubles to the ones you love. When I think about it, everything I hold dear in this world is made of and filled with imperfection. And it is so beautiful.

We can't find growth through perfection. And we can't find connection there either. They take exemplary, peculiar circumstances.

We must have a willingness to embrace and believe in our own imperfection in order to meet others in theirs. And even more so, an acceptance that we as humankind are imperfect too. And that is okay. That is even - dare I say it - good.

Such grace we can grant ourselves.

We are naturally imperfect beings. We are flawed, peculiar, unique, exceptional. We are not meant for perfection. Take a breath. We are not meant for perfection.

And knowing that, holding that, it helps me have compassion for myself when I'm overwhelmed and when expectations fall short, generosity for the people snapping endless pictures for social media, understanding for the generations of us that have forgotten our histories and our lessons, empathy for the people who are trying to do good and fall short. Because we all do all of this. There is space for us all in imperfection, there is space for us here to just be human.

I'll leave you with my final words from that day:

"So how do I learn to sit in the messy? In the anxiety, the loathing, the loving, the worrying, the forgiving, the imperfect? Maybe I just have to sit with it. Just do it. Or maybe I have to sprint through the woods until I find a dead end and fall to the ground. Forgive myself for the sprint, for the messiness. Thank myself for the sprint and the messiness. And then dig my hands into the moss and remind myself that I too am just a simple creature of this earth, here, now. Full of beautiful, wonderful imperfection."


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