Sunday, April 10, 2011
The Tapestry of Life
Hey there, NIP,
I’ve had a lot on my mind lately. It’s probably due to not writing last month and letting the ideas pile up like firewood outside a winter cabin, so I’ll try and get more letters written when opportune moments allow me to do so. This letter in particular has been on the back burner for some months, actually. In my previous letter I mentioned the C.F.A.s (Cultural Friday Activities) that I do with my students, and today’s letter thematically deals with an idea expressed in a William Stafford poem called “The Way It Is” that I read to my students a couple of months ago. If you’re not familiar with Stafford, he was a contemporary U.S. poet from Kansas who had a keen ability to vivify life’s most mundane moments and details with a beauty all their own. In a word, he could transcend the ordinary and bear witness to the sacred that undergirds all life. For those of you who haven’t read or know the poem, here it is:
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you can do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
So what’s the thread, then? Only you can answer that, NIP. One of the powers of poetry is that it’s open to interpretation. When I read it to my students, however, I gave them my idea (well, it’s hardly mine; I think this is the common interpretation that many would give it): the thread is what defines us. We don’t always know where it’s going, but we can feel its tug on our lives. It is the meaning that we have given life and what we relentlessly pursue in the hopes of transforming our lives in some positive or beneficial way. This thread may take us down paths that others may find strange or incongruous to our cultural context (lines 3-5), but it is ultimately about shaping our reality with significance.
There’s something else here, too. If we were to take a step back and reflect on the fact that everyone is (hopefully) doing this in his or her own way, then surely there must be paths of intersection. We are all following our own threads, leading our own lives. But this doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Each day the people with whom we interact are following their own threads, but our lives are somehow changed and altered through this transaction. Our threads comingle and become interwoven. In essence, the lives we touch become part of a broader work, a tapestry in which we are all an integral part.
This idea, though, is not without consequence. It has made me realize that self-reliance is largely a myth, one that our society still espouses as being of utmost importance. To an extent I still agree. I think it is important to be self-reliant mentally. We are ultimately the product of our thoughts, words, and actions; hopefully we cultivate and use this mental self-reliance in order to make the best choices in our lives while building the most beneficial worldview. So it is important to be self-reliant in some sense, but perhaps more important is to see the larger picture of interdependence that is woven within our global tapestry of individual threads. Just about anything you engage with, NIP, whether it is purchasing a coffee, reading a book, cooking a meal, even seeing this letter on your computer screen is contingent upon innumerable other people. In the first example alone, someone grew and harvested the coffee, another person drove it on a truck, another packed it in a warehouse, another flew export flights to destination, and I’m sure tens and perhaps even hundreds of more such moves involving other people in order to make your coffee experience possible. Taken in this light, it is easy to see how truly interdependent we are as a human family.
By recognizing that we need each other to do just about anything, I think we remain grounded. We become aware of the needs of others in a way that perhaps we weren’t in tune with before. This realization, coupled with a precept such as the golden rule, begs us to consider each other’s “threads.” How can we help others achieve their dreams? It is safe to assume that we are all trying to better ourselves in some way or another, so why not help each other along the way? Surely we are better served acting in unison rather than individually. The more I think about the fundamental changes I’ve experienced in the last few years, the more I have to admit they are all part of a holistic process with no discernible seam. While I may have been the initiator in regard to instituting change, the metamorphosis would have been impossible without the help of countless others. Whether it’s my wife, my family, my friends, my coworkers, my students, they have all contributed in their own ways—whether consciously or not—to my transformation. It is only now, after a couple of years, that I am even beginning to realize this. The sooner we realize this in our own lives, the sooner we see the threads all around us.
Take some time to really ponder what it is that moves you at your core, NIP. While it probably isn’t one emotion or idea specifically, deep down inside each of us there is an intuition. Something that is beyond definition or expression. It just is. And that is what drives you, what drives us all. If we are true to ourselves, we listen to this intuition and let it guide us. It will take us where we need to go. Trust in it and follow your thread. Perhaps even more importantly, know that your thread is constantly intersecting with the threads of others. We are all in this life together. The more we acknowledge this fact, the easier it is to see the beautiful tapestry we are all weaving as one.
Keep following your thread, NIP.