Embracing Imperfection

Mary Swan-Bell
4 min readFeb 15, 2022

“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned the hard way that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end.” — Gilda Radner

I didn’t just want a perfect ending; I wanted a perfect everything. Perfect house and job and vacations. Perfect body and hair and skin. Perfect relationships and friendships and family. Perfect marriage and kids and pets. It took a cancer diagnosis for me to loosen my white-knuckled grip on a bunch of uncontrollable things. No matter how tightly I clutched the steering wheel, I found myself powerless over the most basic aspect of life: Living it.

I started to consider: If I’m dead, will it matter if my house is clean? For 28 years of keeping a dwelling — apartment, condo, and finally house — I’ve cultivated a clean, cozy, welcoming environment. This not only meant candles and blankets and books, it also meant dusting around the candles every day, folding the blankets 15 times a day, and organizing the books by color. Curating a kitchen for gathering and laughter also meant wiping the counter tops 47 times a day and constantly using the stick vacuum (#1 pandemic purchase) to keep animal fur and crumbs at bay. But when my treatments left me zapped, I realized that I spend most of my time making our house look a certain way and very little time enjoying this carefully curated environment. Honestly, if I die tomorrow, will it matter if someone sees the dust under my bed and thinks I was a bad housekeeper? Do I want to be remembered as a good housekeeper or a housekeeper at all? After each treatment, fatigued and incapable of wiping or dusting or sweeping, I realized I wanted to spend more time cuddling with my dogs and less time sweeping up their fur. More time laughing with my family and less time wiping crumbs from the counter tops.

Speaking of the kitchen, do I want to continue restricting myself to reach some mythical goal weight that I haven’t seen in at least 15 years? Sometimes post-treatment, all I wanted was a milkshake. I hadn’t had a milkshake in years. Why? Thinness wasn’t even something I really valued anymore. Instead, it was a throwback to my family of origin that valued weight above kindness, compassion, emotional intelligence, and most of the values I hold dear. If I reach 125 pounds, it’s not like I’ll drag myself out of bed and don a bikini to sit in the…

Mary Swan-Bell

dreamer•mystic•seeker• author, Post-Its and Polaroids•