Occasionally it is the juxtaposition of two wildly disparate- and perhaps not at all related- things that brings another (not at all related) thing into stark relief. This weekend, it was a picture of a beautiful starlet in a publication of Seventeen or similar, and a 758-page tome about World War II in Hungary. The picture was gorgeous- she had large green eyes and a bowler hat- the picture was taken with the background appropriately out of focus; the mood was whimsical and the composition was artistic. The book was amazingly rendered, intimately human and, of course, heart-wrenching.
The photograph conjured for me memories of the age at which I last perused the pages of that periodical. Late teens, early twenties, one is simply a steaming, sticky, bowlful of potential. A canvas, freshly fallen snow- one can try on and test drive identities as readily as gloves or shoes. Not knowing who you are is fully acceptable because you are not supposed to be anything yet- you are the endless untied beginnings of what might be- you are a beautifully nebulous ellipsis.
But at some point, one is supposed to have arrived at a character- spun the roulette wheel of life and settled into a slot: red or black; 13, 21, 7, attorney, artist, doctor, writer, mother, hippie, vegan, redneck, mechanic. At some point, the little whirling ball of possibility runs out of centrifugal force, runs out of time, and falls. Whatever it is, the little spinning top of youth is supposed to fall into its slot and… fit. Nothing in popular culture, or literature, or life prepared me for the “overflow”- the parts that don’t fit into my selected slot- the equally strident calls for both order and chaos, military precision and poetry, love and independence.
At some point, I should know what I am, and I should stop wanting to be everything else.
But I haven’t. And neither, it seems, have so many of my similarly situated generational sisters. What is it about our generation? Are we just spoiled? Over stimulated? Used to many options? Or simply more connected than our forbears? Many of our ancestresses certainly pined for a lot different than the one their own. Per haps the difference is that we do not simply want a different lot, but all of them. And not only do we want these roles, but we are required to fill them.
The second aspect, good god, the World War II book. The awesome aching chasm of human loss and tragedy. The raw cruelty of one human to another. The stripped tendons of pure survival. The magnitude of horror certainly puts into perspective my quibbling little uncertainties about “who I am,” or why. Of what import my happiness? In the midst of such suffering and sadness and loss- does the world really care which direction this particular blade of grass bends? Will it affect the world? Will it even affect my own?
On the other hand, what else is there?