Thursday is my birthday. On that day, I will be firmly embedded within my fourth decade, a thought that causes me to age with every firing synapse: old, old, old. As I approach this birthday, I have begun to reflect upon the different periods of my history, and how they have locked together in the untidy muddle of Me that I have created. My Etch-A-Sketch lines are messy and indistinct, and as I cogitate on the years I see just how frequently I’ve been turned over, shaken, and wiped mostly clean, the ghost of previous lines remaining, hairline fractures of the fragile eggshell in which I live: a map of the jigsaw lines of my life.
As little as five years ago, I had different values and goals – some of which I’ve met, and some I haven’t. I had different friends. I lived in a different place, with different expectations, and struggled with different weaknesses. Few of the things I valued then do I still value now. I can’t even remember why they were important to me then, and I care little to think too hard on them, but they cling to me still, vestiges of a past almost forgotten. They are a collection of vague and colorless memories that float around like specks of dust in a ray of sunlight.
I am veiled by these scraps of my past. I am too close to them to see clearly how they’ve affected me, but I know I’ve changed by my measurement of the changes in others. It’s extraordinary to observe people I knew as teenage potheads transform into lawyers and mothers and NGO volunteers. It’s almost incomprehensible to witness valedictorians and full-ride scholars dropping out of school and leaving jobs with drinking problems, drug addictions, and complete expiry of all motivation. I rejoice with those who have made leaps and bounds into their better futures, shrug my shoulders when those people who have always been superstars accomplish yet another amazing feat, but I cannot wrap my mind around the people who have fallen so far. How can they have changed so much? Do they not feel the loss of their ideals and dreams? And then, I think back over the changes I’ve undergone, and I wonder: am I the kind of person at whom you shrug your shoulders, because you have always expected me to achieve what I have, or am I the kind at which people gape, rubber-necking at the train-wreck I’ve made of my life?
Life isn’t, as so many believe, abstract, pointless, or purposeless. There is an image in there somewhere, probably obscured by multiple erasures and heavy lines and scribbles of confusion and circles back and away from the same temptations that kept us from adding depth to the true picture, leaving us flat and feeling incomplete.
In the jigsaw life, all the pieces have a place, though different in shape and size and color. You may struggle with a piece, wondering where it belongs and how much attention you should pay to it before realizing it has a flat edge and belongs on the outer periphery. Some pieces you try to force in, but in the end you become aware that they belong to someone else’s puzzle and not to your own at all. And so often we think we are working on the whole picture, but we’ve become narrow and focused on making a single piece perfect, not realizing that while our backs are turned, all the other pieces are loosening and falling out. We forget that there is no such thing as done, that we have to keep working on all the same pieces we’ve been working on for the entirety of our lives so that the lines match up when the pieces abut. We might not be aware that we’re screwing up while we’re doing it, that our flailing hands and arms are smashing to bits pieces that were perfectly positioned. Worse, sometimes we do know we’re spoiling it, but we don’t pay attention because it seems like such a small piece that’s being sullied, an outside piece, an unimportant piece. Come to discover later, that was a cornerstone piece, which had been keeping the chaos under control.
And then there are the ugly pieces. Weird shapes and bilious colors and aggressively frightening outlines that darken the picture and distort it until it is almost unrecognizable. Pieces that are so worn thin that they are frail and weak and threatening to collapse, compromising the existence and stability of sound pieces, endangering them with the menace of falling into the dark abyss of absence and loss. We try to get rid of these pieces only to find that we cannot separate ourselves from them. They are inextricably intertwined into the fabric of our self hood, their rooty tendrils latched onto so many other bits so that if we force one out, they will all go down together. And so we try to camouflage them, to cover them with other pieces, to paint over them with better colors. The more we do this, the more slipshod and bungled our puzzle becomes.
In the blessing of hindsight, we see that nobody’s puzzle is a perfect square. Our puzzles are better than some, and some are three-dimensional morsels of magic and luck that we covet from afar. In hindsight we can see clearly the mess we made on our life’s canvas, as if we were painting in the dark. The colors are wrong, the lines are a mess, and in some places you can’t even see a picture at all. But the beauty of the jigsaw life is its morphology. You can never be finished while you are alive, and so you can never be a failure. Sometimes you can’t choose which pieces come into your life or the effect these new pieces have on the overall image. The morphology may be out of your control but you can always choose how to fit the pieces in. You can keep searching for new things to put into the puzzle to make it richer. You can keep throwing things out to make it simpler. You can borrow pieces from others until you find your own; you can pick and choose shapes to fit in. Spouse shapes, art shapes, starlight walk shapes, flying-kites-at-the-beach-instead-of-going-to-work shapes. They grow and shift and nothing stays in the same place; pieces that used to be front and center get moved to the side, their absences refilled with baby-shaped pieces, job-shaped pieces, and short-term marathon training-shaped pieces. The outer edges aren’t as clear cut as we think they should be, and though we often kick pieces out and attribute them to other, less important side puzzles, there is always one more, just one more piece missing. Just one thing that will make us better, just one more thing we need to be our best. And this is as it should be.
|The Spouse-shaped piece.
© Heidi Tauschek 2012