She was not pleased, my daughter, as she approached the end of Anne of Green Gables. Neither she nor her brother were interested when I suggested I read them the books as part of our daily homeschool reading. But after the first chapter, they were hooked. They beg for Anne. Plead with her. Clean their rooms for her. I confess; I do like this kind of power.
B decided to read ahead of us and was quickly finding excuses to hide in her room, “just one more chapter,” head tucked over the glowing kindle screen. She’d ask, “where are you in the book? Oh, but don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. But where are you?” She told me stories of what Anne was getting up to, dyeing her hair or yelling at the nebby neighbor.
I stood at the sink, hands deep in soapy water and dinner dishes when she came to me, dejected and a little defiant.
“I don’t like this book anymore. Everything’s so perfect. I liked it better when she was cloaked in flaws.”
Since she used that very peculiar phrase, “cloaked in flaws,” I see instances of relevance everywhere.
At church on Wednesday nights, we’re going through the major stories of the Bible and each week, I’m struck by the same thing. These people were wacked. They took matters into their own hands, they failed again and again and again, they resisted, rejected and rebelled.
Jacob and Esau, Sarah and Rebekah, Isaac and Moses and Noah and Peter and Paul.
I just finished reading The Great Gatsby for the first time, I think, since high school. (Boy, did I not understand what was going on in that book when I was 16 and naive.) Every single one of the characters is not merely cloaked in flaws; they are steeped in foibles, marinating in vices, saturated with selfishness. The entire cast is soaked in a slurry of the seven deadly sins. Heck, these people probably invented new ones to add to the list. They are a crass bunch.
And yet, the story is compelling, nearly irresistible, I think, because of these glaring character defects.
Every good story is peopled with flaws. That’s kind of the whole point. If there’s nothing wrong, if there’s no conflict, if there’s no reason that makes Joseph of the amazing technicolor dreamcoat amazing, then there’s no reason for me to read it. I can get milquetoast every day at my own house.
We are comforted by others’ flaws because it confirms that we are not alone in our depravity (if you’ll pardon the loaded word). We want to know we aren’t the only one who can be a real jerk sometimes.
It’s not just the existence of flaws we find comforting. It’s the struggle with the flaws that speaks to us. In every person who hopes to live a kind of open, giving life, there is a moral compass, a wrestling match within between what we want and what we need, who we are and who we want to be. We like to see how another battles the same impulses.
We don’t want to read about perfect characters. They are not realistic. We cannot relate to perfection. And as much as we may attempt it, we know we’ll never get there this side of heaven.
I encouraged her to continue reading, despite the fact that it looked like Anne had fixed every single one of her wayward ways. She found it implausible that Anne could have become perfection itself; and it is implausible. We are hoping that the next books continue the usual Anne shenanigans, because we don’t want perfect. We want the dirty, old cloak of flaws.