Castles in the Sand

When the waters rise, will our castles remain?

All of me loves all of you / Love your curves and all your edges / All your perfect imperfections

Love songs almost exclusively focus on romantic love, but so often the words can apply to the various different loves. Of course, usually 90 percent of the words work fine when attributed to a non-romantic love situation and about 10 percent make that attribution extremely awkward.

In this case I’m just looking at these three lines of John Legend’s “All of Me.” More specifically, I care about the final line. I just felt that it needed the context of the previous two to really make sense.

Nearly four months ago my little nephew Elliott was born. He is adorable, wonderful and perfect. Except that he isn’t. Elliott was born with a cleft lip and palate, a birth defect that affects about one in every 700 babies. Because of this he has had to deal with extra challenges in feeding and will face several corrective surgeries as he grows. The first will happen Thursday morning at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

The thought of little Elliott going through surgery brings to mind countless emotions, but one has really stuck out to me. In conversations with my sister she’s expressed the same one: we love him exactly how he is. We think he’s perfect. We don’t want him to change.

Now of course we recognize the need for these surgeries. The challenges he’s faced to this point would pale in comparison to the difficulties moving forward without corrective procedures: trouble eating, drinking, speaking and even hearing, along with all kinds of potential dental issues. And we know he’ll be absolutely beautiful after the procedure.

But what can we say? When you fall in love with something you don’t want it to change. You learn to love all of the perfect imperfections. I think that’s a perfect phrase for little Elliott – we’ve never seen him as anything less than perfect. His imperfections were and are just a part of that perfection.

I’ll never forget the early morning of June 25th, when I first met Elliott. I was waiting to find out whether I’d have a little niece or nephew, and when I got to hold him he was the most beautiful baby I’d ever seen. Quick disclaimer: he’s the only true newborn I’ve ever seen in person and I might be slightly biased as his favorite uncle. But probably not.

Anyway, we’ve been desperately trying to get as many pictures as we can in the weeks leading up to the surgery. After Thursday, we will never again see Elliott’s face the way it was when he first came into this world. While I’m very excited that he will have taken that first step towards a more easily functional life, I would be lying if I didn’t say I will be sad to never see that grin again.

We live in a world that despises imperfections. We believe that we need to cover everything, whether through makeup or surgery. And if the surgery leaves any scar, we have to cover that. If it’s a matter of body type we have to eat less or eat more to try to attain the exact look we think society will deem as good enough. Perfect isn’t even an option.

I think that’s why love songs so often use that word to describe people. We’re trying so hard to reach perfection and we know it’s an impossible standard. By it’s own definition it can essentially never be reached. But we respond the wrong way.

I know this will shock everyone out there to hear, but I’m not perfect. And to be completely honest, sometimes that really sucks. But when I really think about it, do I want people to be perfect? Even if we could come up with a definition of perfection that we could all agree to, if everyone attained it we would all be exactly the same. That’s creepy. And as awesome as I’m sure you all think I am, the world would probably not be a better place if everyone were exactly like me. Well, okay, it might be.

Our issue isn’t that we’re not perfect; it’s that we don’t think it’s okay to admit that. One of my cousins has a scar on her face that someone tried to photoshop out of a photo because they thought she would want that. But that wasn’t her response. She didn’t recognize herself; she knew something was off; it wasn’t the real her.

Even with all the incredible advances in surgical skill and technology, Elliott will have a scar after Thursday. I don’t know how prominent it will be, but it will be there. And I hope and pray that he never sees it as an imperfection to be ashamed of. Because I believe it’s the exact opposite: it is a sign of his perfection. It shows that he is unique and has gone through things in life that are a part of him. He is perfectly himself.

I hope to get one more picture with him before his surgery on Thursday so I can always have that last picture from just before he went through his first major change in life. When he’s older and can understand that process, I’ll show him that picture, along with one from the days after the surgery, and explain to him how perfectly we saw him in those moments. And how perfectly we still see him.

They don’t really make love songs for an uncle to a nephew. When my sister and brother-in-law got married, I had a very difficult time tracking down a good love song directed from a brother to a sister that I could use for our dance together. Until songwriters realize all the different forms of love that could so wonderfully be expressed through song, I’ll have to keep co-opting romantic songs to fit my purposes.

When I hold Elliott before his surgery I’ll be singing, “All of me loves all of you / love your curves and all your edges / all your perfect imperfections.” It will only be those three lines, but those will be enough. Then I’ll pray over him, hand him off and trust that God will care for him in the operating room.

And I’ll go wait to see him after the surgery, when I can discover his new perfect imperfections.

I may or may not have photoshopped his shirt... But the Tyler Face smile is totally legit!

I may or may not have photoshopped his shirt… But the Tyler Face smile is totally legit!

3 thoughts on “Perfect imperfections: a love song for a baby nephew

  1. Dave Primitive Bungee Salesman says:

    You’re right. None of us are perfect. But you are in the making of the perfect uncle. It will be exciting watching you grow up together. You guys rock.

    1. Cassandra Gale says:

      Wow Tyler, that was so incredibly thoughtful and special, thank you for sharing 🙂

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