My neighbor sells eggs. Often I go over and fetch a dozen out of the fridge on the back porch and leave my money in the bucket. Other times I wander into the henhouse with an empty carton and fill it with eggs lifted straight from the nests. Each small, warm oval rests lightly in my hand, a marvel of packaging and design. The hens cluck and fuss about my feet, the sun slants in the windows, filtering through the raised dust like rays from heaven, and the little enclosed world of egg production seems a place of warmth and rightness.
Tonight while I was contemplating what to make for dinner there was a knock on my door and there stood my neighbor with a carton in her hand. She set it on the counter and lifted the lid. In each of the twelve rounded cavities rested an odd-looking egg.
“I can’t market these,” she said, running her fingertips lightly over the shells and picking up one of the eggs from its resting place. It was bulbous at one end, as though the hen had given an extra hard push at laying time and then got up too soon. I had to chuckle. Each egg in the carton was just slightly askew, as though the idea of “egg” had been vaguely misinterpreted. One had extra chunks of calcium attached in an irregular pattern like some kindergarten child had made it with too much glue and enthusiasm. Another had an elongated end, a third had striations around its middle like a fancy, tooled chair leg. Two of the eggs were colored a pale bluish green and another two were so small they lolled in their hollows with room to spare.
“You see?” said my neighbor as I peered into the box. “None of these are ‘perfect’ so I can’t sell them in the store. Most people like their eggs to be….well, egg-shaped and these…” She looked at me and grinned. “These are kind of like you and me—recognizable but just a bit off center.”
The idea of imperfectly shaped eggs being somehow inferior and less appetizing or marketable seemed suddenly silly. After all, how many recipes do you know that call for unbroken eggs? Once the shell is cracked and tossed, who would notice its weird shape? And the outer form of the shell has no effect on the taste or nutritional value of the egg itself.
Looking at those eggs made me wonder about our perceptions of perfection. Whose ideas of faultlessness do we carry around in our heads and why do we subscribe to them? What constitutes our personal definition of perfection and does our idea of that change over time? Further, if we change our thought or expectation or desire, does that change the rightness of what we once held to be ‘perfect?’
I refrigerated all but four of the eggs. Then I fetched my recipe book and a bowl, cracked the four eggshells against its rim, and whipped the contents with milk and sugar into the smoothest of custards, which, when baked, turned out just perfectly.