This past weekend I went to a memorial celebration for an amazing woman. Her friends and family gathered under a big awning in a field with marimba music and camping and slide shows of her life. One after another people got up to speak about her; many used the words "angel" and "perfect."
Well, my friend was no angel. She was not into boundaries and thumbed her nose at what we might consider "normal" social behavior. She was part Latin American, had totally off-the-wall ideas and would spend hours trying to convince you to do something. She spoke several languages, traveled widely, was sharp as tacks--but seemed restless and stifled in the small town where she lived. She had a "why not?" attitude that scared and angered some people, who saw her as a danger to their teenagers--many of whom adored her.
What makes her unforgettable was the part of her that was definitely not an angel. She would drive around in her old car, smoking cigars and knocking on your door at 1 am to come out and celebrate your birthday--which she would have remembered. She was a kid who pushed stodgy 40-something mothers to remember what it was like to break rules. No lectures about your inner child, just a let's-go-out-and-have-fun-now attitude.
We humans are made up of many parts--compassion and greed, openness and blind spots, care and thoughtlessness. None of us are saints--not Gandhi, not Mother Teresa, not Nelson Mandela. Carl Jung wrote of our "shadow" side, the part of us that is not so pleasant and the part we avoid looking at--which is also the part we need to face to become whole people.
It reduces us to a stereotype when we push ourselves--or allow someone else to--into a box or a label. Instead of, "I am a bad person," I tell myself "I am a good person who behaved badly." Instead of "She was an angel," I'm going to go with, "She was devilishly sweet and angelically crazy."