Tattered hails from the Middle English tater and old Norse tǫturr meaning rag or shred, and both forms are cognate with the old English tætteca meaning more or less the same thing. Almost every culture on the planet lays claim to something like this week's word - Low German has its tater, Old High German has zaeter, and the Icelandic form is töturr. Once a noun, tatter seldom makes an appearance in present day parlance as such, and we prefer to use the past participle form with its implied verb.
To be tattered is to be frayed, shabby and dilapidated, threadbare, all patches and blowing scraps, worn from long and honorable use in the service of life. That makes the word conceptual kin to wabi sabi, the timeless Japanese aesthetic centered around notions of simplicity, transience and impermanence or mujo (無常).
As Richard Powell of Still in the Stream puts it: "[Wabi-sabi] nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is ever finished, and nothing is perfect." The subtitle for his book Wabi Sabi Simple is Create Beauty, Value Imperfection, Live Deeply, and they're good words to live by. Paradoxically, that which is tattered, transient and ostensibly unfinished or lacking is beautiful in its natural state and complete in its suchness or tathātā. Here's the elemental koan of life popping up again and insisting that we pay attention and think about it. We are all perfectly enough, just as we are. Here today and gone tomorrow, we blaze with life during our scant handful of days on the earth, and oh, how we flutter and sing while we are here. On summer's middling pages, there are reminders everywhere one looks.
It would be difficult to imagine a reminder more poignant than the Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) who came into the garden a few days ago. She fluttered from flower to flower in the sunlight, and when she came to rest on a black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), there was joy in every vibration of her faded and battered wings. How can one dance or fly ecstatically in such a state? Well, she did, and she was beautiful, absolutely beautiful. If I could have held the lady in my arms that day, I would have done just that - I was feeling frayed too, and it was comforting to meet a kindred spirit in the garden.