How to be perfect in a pandemic


I woke up this morning, before my alarm, to the loud clanking sound of construction equipment. Now, I don't live on a busy street. In fact, I live in the back end of a usually quiet townhome complex with very little traffic, few people, and surrounded by grass and a pond. On a usual day, I wake up to the sound of the wind, birds, or squirrels in the trees outside my window. Usually, I love my perfect suburban life. (Yes, I know how privileged I am.) But waking up startled like that today has reminded me that my life can't always be so perfect.

During this pandemic, I've seen it's actually far from perfect. I have to stay at home more than I want to, wash my hands for at least 20 seconds every time I touch anything that anyone else has touched, and continually wipe the cupboard knobs and counters with disinfectant. Outside my house, I can't hang out with my neighbors or go to a movie or church. For weeks, I couldn't even get an X-ray to see if my broken leg was healing properly.

This whole pandemic thing has really put a wrench in my privileged perfect life. Well, at least the illusion of it. The more I've needed it to be perfect, the less it is. The more I wanted people just to stay safe in their homes, wear masks, and physically distance, the more I realized how I just wanted everyone to be perfect little models of people in a pandemic. But it hasn't only been others. I've done a number on myself, too, ensuring I was doing my part by not hugging my daughters, being obsessed with not touching my face, or getting the perfect lighting for my next Zoom call so I wouldn't show my new gray hairs.

And now, I'm about to graduate from seminary ON ZOOM! How am I going to make that perfect? Well, I've certainly tried. True to form, I've overly volunteered to help — organizing an online study break dance party, leading a class healing circle, coordinating a student ritual, and recording backup singing for our grand finale. So, now I'm stressed and exhausted, feeling like I'm one of those squirrels circling my tree. Is all that going to make for a perfect ending of a graduate education? Someone, please stop me!

So remembering what I've learned about living a reflective life, I stopped. Breathed. And listened. Yes, the construction noise is gone, but now replaced with a lawnmower. The breeze is rustling the leaves gently, my heart is beating calmly again, and we're still in an imperfect pandemic. No, my house isn't perfectly sanitized, my community isn't following all the guidelines to a tee, and my graduation won't be what I had always envisioned. But I'm alive in a home. I have a community. I'll soon achieve my long-awaited goal of a master's degree. Through all the messiness of our current situation, it took a public health crisis to realize my own. It is clear I've needed to forgo perfectionism. But not just during a pandemic. Forever.

Formerly a Colorado state senator representing District 26 in the Littleton area, now a seminary student at Iliff School of Theology, Linda Newell is a writer, speaker, filmmaker, and facilitator. She may be reached at,,, @sennewell on Twitter, Senator Linda Newell or @TheLastBill on Facebook.


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