When I was a child my father would make apple pies from scratch. I remember watching him beneath the apple tree in our backyard on soft fall afternoons. I remember his diligence and scrutiny, the way he carefully inspected each apple before plucking it down from the tree. I remember fondly watching this exercise in decision-making. I remember this lesson in paying attention.
It was an art, the way he held each one in his hands, rubbing their soft skin against his fingers, rough from years of labor. He examined each of them with precision, turning them over and over, searching for flaws. The tiniest scratch, and the apple would drop from his hands without a second thought, left to rot among the fallen leaves. The perfect ones were saved.
They were brought inside. At the kitchen skin he meticulously washed them, tenderly caressing them beneath the running water, proud of his discovered treasure. I remember watching the small fruit in the cup of his large, stately hands. I remember seeing what my father saw, those shining apples, those sparkling rare jewels, those examples of perfection. I remember the delicious taste of his apple pie.
But as the years went by, I began to see what my father couldn’t. I would think for days about the apples that were not chosen. I would watch them rot beneath the tree. I would slip out into the yard and watch as ants and worms and small critters ate away at their flesh until they reached the very core. I would think of the way the apples decomposed back into the ground, the way they became soil for the tree, the way they allowed it to once again, bloom. I would think of the way these flawed, imperfect things nourished the world.
I understood them. I knew that if I were an apple, my father wouldn’t pick me. I wouldn’t live up to his expectations. I wouldn’t be praised and adored. I would never be perfect. I would never be lovingly made into pie. He would never experience my sweetness.
But others might. I could still be treasure. I could still nourish the world. Some famished creature could find me and I could save them with my sweetness. I could offer myself fully. I could allow them to consume me down to my core.
More than once in my life my soul has been fed by the perfectly imperfect. I have laughed when things have gone terribly wrong. I have cried at others’ tears. I have delighted in the awkward, the ridiculous, the absurd. I have held scratches and bruises and dents in the cup of my hands. I have reveled in the way they sparkle. I have marveled in the way their imperfections shine. I have seen what my father couldn’t. I have cherished the flaws.
I have sat beneath the apple tree among what was left behind. I have observed the birds and squirrels and ants coming to collect what was cast aside. I have been moved by their love and understanding. I have been honored to be part of this sweet unwanted tribe. It has taught me, more than once, what it means to pay attention.
And it is not about searching for those perfect apples. It is about searching for the value of the flaws. It is about sitting beneath trees on soft afternoons. It is about being enchanted by the world. It is about smelling the sweet scent of fresh apple pie wafting in the wind around you, and knowing that what you have found, what you have created, is far more delicious than that.