11/27/2012 11:35 am ET Updated Jan 27, 2013

Perfect Days

For many years, I have longed for the perfect day -- the one when everything goes right. I have had perhaps 10 of these. Always, my perfect day begins with a restful sleep, from which I emerge to see the sun rising ever so slowly in its colorful canvas outside my bedroom window. Sometimes it brings the fresh green leaves of spring into view, in their soft splendor, as if awakening with me amidst a hundred-bird symphony. Sometimes it begins with freshly fallen snow, one just enough to recall an Andrew Wyeth farmer's field but not require a single shovel's worth of work. My perfect day always includes a warm embrace and a shower of kisses from my wife and, often, the laughter of children and grandchildren, perhaps seated around the breakfast table, because they have spent the night with us, telling stories and lovingly mocking our over-protectiveness. Sometimes my perfect day includes completion of an article or chapter of a book I am working on, with the sense that the words flowed onto the page just as they were meant to do through a creativity whose source and evocation I still cannot explain. Sometimes it includes a walk through our woods and past our lake, or it may include seeing Jefferson's "ocean view" from the top of Monticello mountain. Sometimes my perfect day is accompanied by a brief shower that leaves a cloudy mist hugging the distant fields and hills, as if they have pulled a down quilt around themselves on a frosty morning. Often, my perfect day includes cuddling up with a good book or watching a favorite romantic movie, in which I glimpse someone else's perfect day. Almost always, my perfect day has a favorite dessert in it, enjoyed without worry about fat or cholesterol, and on the most special of days shared with laughter amidst people whose presence adds so much joy to my life. And every time, my perfect day ends with my head resting on my pillow, with the blankets pulled tight and my wife's gentle kiss, three times for luck, easing me off to sleep.

I have learned, not without frustration, that I cannot script these perfect days. They arrive, as if conjured through some magic whose formula I will never know. As they weave their spell over me, I can sense that they will be perfect. There is a flow to them that is a mixture of effortlessness and inevitability. I wish there were more of them, though if there were, perhaps they would not seem so perfect. Excellence, after all, gains its special claim on us through comparison with the mundane.

But I have noticed other things about my perfect days. One is that the longing for them renders many other days less than they might have been, recalling the feeling I had as a child when I knew that I was not measuring up to the expectations of my parents. This saddens me, because somehow I know that I am thus colluding in my own unhappiness. Someone once said that the perfect is the enemy of the good. I was never sure what this meant, but I now think it is telling me that striving for perfection, while noble and human, is at the same time a distraction. It robs us of so much joy we could have in our lives if we were not always wondering why they were not more joyful.

A second lesson about my perfect days has, over time and with difficulty, seeped into my consciousness. My perfect days are composed of perfect moments. Obvious on one hand, this becomes revelatory on the other. Every day of my life has perfect moments. While few may be filled with them, from dawn to dusk, all of them have at least one, if I can just make it out from the clutter of those parts of my life that obscure it. I can see this in my garden, which viewed as a totality never quite satisfies. There is always a nasty weed not pulled or the mint growing in places I never wanted it to go. But there, when I look for it, is the peony bud that has just opened, with a drop of morning dew on its petals catching the sun as if it were nature's mirror, bringing its perfection directly into my adoring eyes.

I like to think that, with advancing years, I have gained more perspective and more of an ability to insert my insights into the way I live. So I shall try to act on the realization that the search for perfect days makes me walk right past the perfect moment in every day. If I can do this, I may continue to have very few perfect days, but I will see that I have, in fact, a perfect life.

For more by Terry Newell, click here.

For more on wisdom, click here.