Dr. Anthony Fauci is my hero. The well-known immunologist has spoken calmly and professionally about the COVID-19 pandemic. Yes, I admire him for all his scientific knowledge, articulate presence on the news, and immense intelligence, but that is not what I really appreciate about him.
What I like best about Dr. Fauci was his first pitch for the delayed opening day of the baseball season in July. He flubbed it up and not just a little.
My heart did a flip when I saw that ball sail off to the side nowhere near home plate. I had an epiphany.
Dr. Fauci showed me that it is just fine to do really well at some things and reasonably awful at other things. He didn’t blame the wind or the sun or the catcher. He called it a “mishap” and said he had a sore arm. I remember a few bowling balls I sent to the gutter and songs I could not play on the piano. I could relate.
I don’t know if I thought it was biblical or a part of keeping up the family name or just a personality trait, but I grew up thinking I had to be good at everything I did. When I went to school, I could not accept poor grades. I still remember that C I got in typing. I held onto that report card a couple days before showing my parents. Fortunately, good grades in other courses were in my grasp.
The area of life in which I needed Facui’s example was sports. Softball was not optional at my little school. We all played and we picked teams. Yes, that was me — picked last every time. My poor skills can’t be blamed on lack of effort. Every day I waited until Dad was on his way to the house for supper, full milk bucket in hand. “Please pitch me a few,” I begged. He set the bucket aside, with the silo as a backstop, and pitched. I clutched the bat; I watched the ball; I swung; I missed. Over and over again.
At that point, I wish Dad had said, “Helen, you read really well and write stories that are warm and colorful. It is okay if you can’t hit the ball.” Maybe he truly thought that. But I didn’t hear it and did not believe it.
I also didn’t believe it when school was hard and I felt like I needed to get up at 5 am to study for tests. I didn’t believe it when my rendition of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” was not on tune and sent me to Girls Glee instead of Concert Choir. I didn’t believe it when Perfection was my shadow and I could not lose it.
When I didn’t do well, I felt sick or thought I just needed to work harder. When trying harder made little difference, I had a hard time coping. I still can’t hit a softball so I’m not sure practice would have made any difference. Dr. Fauci did practice and was once good at baseball. When thousands were watching, however, he came off as a good sport, knowing he was really good at many things that matter more to him.
I still struggle with perfectionism and can lose sleep when a meal doesn’t turn out or a tomato plant wilts. I worry that I should have said more at a social gathering or wonder if I said the wrong thing. I wonder if my family will like their Christmas gifts. When I don’t get called to substitute teach, I am sure that someone prefers the other subs. I worry about the food I prepare for guests and the writing I submit for my writing group. I wonder if the house is clean enough, if I volunteer enough, if I can remember what is important, if I’ll go to heaven.
Knowing that it is acceptable and expected to have imperfections is easier to say than to believe and apply to living. Although perfectionism might seem to be an admirable goal, it has actually curtailed my willingness to try new things or even do things for others at times. Not trying means not doing anything wrong. And self-deprecation is tiring for others to hear.
Getting older has helped me. I have learned that competition is exhausting, and self-acceptance is soothing. I no longer need to please my parents, get great job evaluations, or achieve merit in every area. I’m no longer getting grades except my own. Some days my self-talk actually works. When I think of what Jesus wants, I know loving others is more important than doing things perfectly.
And I have a few things I do well. I hope Dr. Fauci also thought about how his main gifts help others. He is well-respected for his knowledge of immunology, not pitching.