My toddler loves puzzles and is a whiz at them. If we competed, he would win. He has an eye for how the picture goes together even without seeing what the image is meant to look like, first. With the speed and confidence of some divine being, he gleefully dispatches each piece into a beautiful image. Sometimes, though, he gets stuck, and wails to me, “Mommy, this piece doesn’t go!” Of course it does, though – lucky for him, I think to myself.
My maternal grandmother lost her husband when she was 30 years old, which is the same age I was when my husband passed away. Last night while I laid awake, as I have so many, many nights these last seven years, I fantasized that I could hold her hand and ask if she spent her whole life after that feeling a little bit broken, like a tree when the roots die on one side and all the corresponding branches die and fall away, or if she found instead that she grew like a mighty oak, twisted thick and strong all around her grief. In a way I feel that both are true in my case. The choice is grow-back-or-die, in the brutal wilderness of our world, but growing back may not look like what it did before. I feel changed through and through; as different looking today as the moth who once was a caterpillar.
Yes, moth – I’m not sure I feel as glorious as a butterfly. I’m so much more understated, modest, serious than before. Where before my thoughts were steeped in glamor, music, fun and the fast life of a 20-something, my thoughts now are about nurturing others, healing injustice, on finding the places I can help make a difference. It feels much more like hearkening to the toll of bells I never wanted to hear before, and yet now I wonder how the two selves can be friends, and I miss being able to ask my grandmother for guidance.
With what nostalgia I recall her love for puzzles – like my son’s. I recall the table in the dining room, spread with a thousand tiny pieces flecked with autumn leaves, or the reflection of autumn leaves in water below, and I recall wondering what was enjoyable about a challenge such as that. It took forever to get it all together, and spending quiet and concentrated time like that was repulsive to me.
I still struggle with it. I find that, in picking up the pieces of a shattered life after the loss of a spouse, we find there are pieces that are now noncontiguous with the rest of the picture, especially relating to identity; that favorite movie that reminded us of us, that band we listened to on road trips, whose new albums we anticipated together, and even other, still more personal, pieces. They are present in the forming image now, but surrounded with gaps. They are a different color than their section, like an accidental blotch. Yet, they cannot be absent wholly, because they still exist. They are part of the mosaic that is still being constructed.
I’m not sure I want to look at those parts. They are favorites from the “before” version that was smashed in order to create the “after,” and are reminders of unmet desires and impossible dreams. They are sharp, fragmented. They are pieces that don’t go. I wonder how much of this is a product of grieving, and how much is a normal part of any human evolution. I wonder if I just pound on them with my fist hard enough, can I smooth their conspicuousness and make them fit? I want to cry to someone that my pieces don’t go, and be shown the answers.
This past year I’ve been on an extremely bumpy career path, barreling down an unhewn part of a road less traveled in the first place. I’m also engaged to my partner and expecting a second child. There’s talk of moving to a different house, because this one won’t do any longer. Money is tight, I’m feeling very pregnant and exhausted, and I’ve never been so frustrated and impatient in my whole life. I want to throw my hands up and exclaim that I don’t know who I am, whose life this is or how to do it well. I feel that I am, myself, a piece without a place to fit.
Perhaps when my time here has finished I will realize that those misfit pieces were the vision of someone who could see more clearly than I, like the French pointillist artists who had more rods and cones in their eyes, and saw purples and greens where my eyes only saw white. Perhaps my complaint about misfit pieces is as short-sighted as my son’s, and with time and maturity I can more calmly accept that there’s no need to panic; rather, to have faith that either the pieces do fit, or that they aren’t meant to. There is that question of faith again. Perhaps if we can spend time meditating on the big picture, with a little faith and serenity, we’ll find the way to make it all work. Maybe the final image is different than we were expecting, but that doesn’t mean it will be void of color or blessings or breathtaking beauty. I’ll keep returning my mind to a focus on joy without conditions, on the gifts that are indeed present right now, and those that are in the mail, so to speak – and keep pulsing out my gratitude for the joys to come, with every heartbeat.
With love and brotherhood, I hope this post finds you well.