October 2, 2003
Pools, People and Other Works in Progress
by Dave Zimmerman
A friend of mine called to tell me about an argument he had with his wife. He was refreshingly contrite, aware of his own failings that contributed to the conflict, but also aware of the problem he was trying to address. He became increasingly upset as he watched his character flaws frustrate an overdue discussion.
I was glad for the call; I had been fighting a losing battle with my above-ground pool. If you own one, you understand: you scrub its walls, scoop out the leaves that fall constantly from surrounding trees, pour in chemicals and filter out toxins, skim the floating dandelion fluffs and water bugs off the surface, and occasionally wonder what you would do with more square footage of lawn in your backyard. Meanwhile the pool continues to be uninhabitable (unless you are a water bug) until the moment when the water comes clear and the chemicals balance out. Congratulations: your pool is now usable for the next forty-five minutes. Hope the water’s warm.
Pools and people have this in common: the whole is affected by the presence of corruption. Chemically speaking, pool water is corrupted by decaying leaves, breeding algae and flaking skin cells. Theologically speaking, people are corrupted by a sinful nature.
Not every choice is foolish and not every act bad, but every aspect of our personhood must contend with the fact that linked to our nature, leeching our virtue, is the perpetual stain of original sin. We were created good but infected early, and we are continually frustrated by its intrusion into our noble pursuits. It affects how I write this article: Do I write out of sheer benevolence, the desire to share what I’ve learned with a needy audience? Or do I write out of arrogance, thinking I have something worth sharing with people who in reality are likely better than I? Do I write out of a need to prove something to my boss, my parents, my spouse, myself, my God? And what I write may have its good points, but do I even want to know its bad points?
I am an editor, and I respect the editorial task, which is not to say I enjoy it. An editor commits to scrubbing and scooping and skimming and priming and filtering the writer’s work for what is valuable. Of course, the editor is no less sinful than the writer, which I remind myself occasionally as I edit and more frequently as I write. But a second perspective has a different set of failings and foibles to contend with, and four semi-blind eyes are better than two.
People, like pools and manuscripts, are works in progress vulnerable to error and misjudgment. That being the case, people benefit from having at least one editor, one person committed to their success who will draw out their best and confront their worst. I crave editing like I crave dental work, but I need editing perhaps even more than a good drill in the mouth. So does everyone. My friend had the courage to submit his life to an editorial eye. May he have the clarity to filter my failings out of my perspective and bring the best out of his own life.