Life is not a line, but a squiggle.
Ah yes, that famous quote from that influential Greek philosopher.
I’ve had a setback recently due to a shoulder injury, which has definitely stymied me somewhat. Not being able to do yoga (when I was finally on a damn roll), not being able to go to dance classes I *just* signed up to and all the rest of my millennial melodrama. Being the weirdly flexible, double-jointed praying mantis that I am, I recently discovered my joints are prone to popping out of themselves if they happen to be worked at a certain angle, resulting in some soreness and moreover, an annoying inability to do certain things til that pain goes away. In the words of Elton himself, it’s a sad, sad situation and pity is very much welcome, but it got me thinking about how precious our bodies actually are and how much we take them for granted. And also how life has that tendency to screw you over literally at any point it feels like it (which is not always a bad thing).
Doing things as simple as putting on a jumper or pouring a cup of tea nags at my tendon, which is all fine and I know that (all being well) this is temporary – but what about people who suffer with chronic pain, who have to live with this terminally, as it were? Day in, day out, not being able to do the most basic of things? Athletes, even, who may be desperate to do the one thing that makes them feel most alive, but it’s been taken away from them? It really is the classic human tragedy that is experienced in many facets that we just don’t know what we have until it’s gone. So ultimately, we should be treating our bodies like absolute princesses, because that’s what they are – think about EVERYTHING they do for us, without us even having to ask. It’s incredible, in the most literal sense of the word.
Ranting aside, I’ll come back to my very intellectual squiggle theory. We all suffer setbacks in many ways, with whatever we are trying to improve, whether it’s a project at work, your career in general, a relationship, a physical endeavour, personal/spiritual growth, or indeed, even vegetable growth in your very own humble allotment patch! Those metaphorical and very real slugs can eat away at your months, or even years, of hard work and sometimes yank you right back to square one, cause, Sod’s Law. Sometimes, it’s not even a matter of buying all the pesticide in the world; it’s on a much more complex scale that’s totally out of your hands.
Related to this theme of setbacks and overcoming them, my friend introduced me to the artist Henri Matisse who has an inspiring story. Matisse was a French artist and painter known for his pioneering use of bold colour in his print works and art, one of the few leaders in the ‘Fauvism’ movement. He died in 1954 of a heart attack, but before that became bed-bound due to developing necrosis from a surgical wound, that disabled him from being able to stand and paint. Nevertheless, he kept making art and original art even still, known for his ‘Painting with scissors’ technique, from his bedside.
So to put it mildly, he’s a pretty badass example of not letting life screw you over, even if you are an artistic icon. With this in mind, though, if you view life spanned out on a very basic graph, it isn’t supposed to be linear or easy. We aren’t supposed to shoot for the stars like a rocket in one straight line, as much as we are told to aim for said proverbial stars in our youth. For one, that would make life increasingly boring and – you know what’s coming – you wouldn’t ever learn or grow.
As much as I loathe the idiom What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger it applies to this context (even if my personal example is just another episode of Alice’s Pity Party). Without setbacks or stumbling blocks, we wouldn’t be forced to question our strength, our morals, our intentions or our purpose on this planet; we would become very two dimensional human beings and we have so much more potential to be more than that. Despite considerable, painful physical setbacks, Matisse found a way around them and moreover, didn’t let them stop him from creating. Life presented a tangled disarray of a squiggle to him, which is an understatement to say the least, but let Matisse, and many, many other resilient human beings throughout history, be examples as to how, hardships mostly are mind over matter. And that life’s just a squiggle. Sometimes a stupid annoying one. Sometimes one that leads you to previously unimaginable places. Enjoy the unpredictable messiness of it all.