I am referring to those questions that usually come somewhere between midnight and 3am on the night before some big event in our lives. The one night when you know that you really need to get some sleep so you have the energy to face the following day. The Thinkers of all ages have wrestled with these questions, have attempted to answer them, written volumes of possible solutions, even spent entire life times exploring, rejecting, and then reinvestigating probable, or improbable, perspectives, viewpoints, theories and so on. We more mediocre, middle of the road types of individuals, usually end by throwing our hands up in the air and asking (without ever believing there really is an answer), “What’s it all about?” “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “What is my purpose in all of this?”
Those are the big questions of life, and if we have even a minimal amount of curiosity, we all get around to asking them sooner or later. If we don’t, perhaps it might be just as fruitful to ask ourselves why we are avoiding them. Why we are not curious about the manner in which all of the puzzle pieces fit together, connect, and create an understandable image of who we are and why we are whatever we are. What it is we are ultimately seeking and striving for, and if we have any kind of chance at accomplishing any, or all of that.
Life is very much like a jigsaw puzzle, thousands of small cut out pieces all stored in a cardboard box until that dark night when we can’t sleep, so we reach up on the shelf in the front hall closet, bring it down, and spill them all out on a card table and attempt to put at least a few of those pieces together, maneuvering them around to see if they even come close to fitting, sliding together, and go “ker-chunk”. The big difference is that a jigsaw puzzle is uniformly cut into a certain pattern, and the pieces are all of a similar size and shape. Our lives, on the other hand, are usually made up of large, medium sized, and small pieces, sometimes jagged edges that end abruptly for no apparent reason, or smoothed over curves that wonder off aimlessly into nowhere.
Logically, we should be able to sort all of that out chronologically. This is what happened in such and such a year, and then the following year, and so on. Have you ever tried to do that? It can be an overwhelming task without any seeming end. That’s because our lives don’t happen in a straight line. Trying to make those odd shaped pieces fit into such a preordained order is a great deal closer to insanity than most of us wish to get. Oh, you can clip off some of those jagged edges, straighten out a few of the curves, but how do you decide what to leave in, or what to take out? By the time one is done cutting and pasting it together, one might very well have lost any sense of the story that might have been there at the beginning. The picture that might eventually emerge could be no more than a nightmare, a hodge-podge of colors, as discordant as cracked bells, or just a mess that needs to be cleaned up and thrown out.
A journal or diary, could easily become the cardboard box where one keeps all of those pieces. A repository for the odd moments, bits and pieces, large and small, and everything in-between. Because there are no rules, except the ones chosen by the keeper, its a safe place to keep it all. And because one is making note of those odd moments, creating a distinct path to remembering them, the odds are much higher that the pieces that actually fit together will find each other and slide together far more easily.
Last night, I spent some time listening to a song that I find particularly haunting. Later, a friend called and asked what I’d been doing. I told her and began to explain where I first heard the song and my immediate response to it. In telling her those things, I remembered other things that pertained to my fascination and intrigue with the story behind the song. The pieces of this part of my own story ranged from dreams, a movie, an actor in the movie, the names of particular people in my life, the birth of one of my daughters, a prayer that had been answered. In other words, associations and connections ranging over thirty years of my existence. Suddenly, all those disparate pieces fit together and went “ker-chunk”.
A large portion of those Really Big Questions got answered for me last evening. It was time and I was ready to hear the answers. Ready because I have been making notes, enhancing my memory, and keeping all the bits and pieces in a journal. My friend, who by the way, had called close to midnight, was as awed as I was by how smoothly it all fit together and how much sense it made.
At the moment, I am thinking that not keeping a journal is a lot like spilling all of those puzzle pieces onto that card table face down. No clues of color, or pattern. No concept of how they might fit together, connect to one another. Blind by choice, to all the possibilities. Furthermore, if by some astronomically odd chance you might be able to fit them together, you still have to flip it all over to see the image that has emerged. Good luck with that.