The Art of Mistakes

The other day, I caught my daughter in the act of throwing away a canvas she had painted.

Why, I asked her, would you throw away a beautiful piece of art? Elenia held it up to me, pointing out how a quote she had written on the canvas had bubbled since she was using an old canvas that had already been painted on several times.

“I never should have tried to emboss over the top of so much paint,” she said. “It’s hopeless.”

As I looked closer, I noticed what she meant, but I still liked the piece. It looked, somehow more real, more personal than something similar you would buy at Target. The black canvas had the mark of humanity on it. Elenia’s presence nearly shimmered off the embossed quote.

I loved it.

But to her it was a mistake. As a middle-school teacher to mostly girls, I don’t know how many times I’ve heard one of them write about how they feel like they or their lives are mistakes. One wasn’t meant to be living with her grandparents instead of her parents. One’s parents shouldn’t have divorced. One hated her tall, gangly figure. One hated the fact she was so much shorter than her peers. One hated her nasty temper.

Our lives may look messy. We may feel messy. And while our mistakes certainly inform and affect our lives, ultimately they don’t have to define them. Or us. What if living with your grandparents because your mother is incompetent turns out to be the best thing that ever has happened to you? What is your parents divorcing grows in you a deep and abiding determination to work on your own marriage? What if being tall puts you out front as a starter in basketball, or if being short means you, unlike your lanky friends, have the potential to tumble like Simone Biles?

What if that ‘mistake’ you are about to throw in the garbage would have turned out to be a masterpiece?

Sterile lives are as interesting as sterile art. That’s why you find Michelangelo's work in the Louvre and Thomas Kinkade's in Goodwill.