discovery, n. the act of finding or learning something for the first time.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about life as a lengthy series of discoveries. Discovering new places. Discovering new foods. Discovering new people who will become your best friends. Discovering new cures and vaccines. Discovering books you’ve never read, movies you’ve never seen, music you’ve never heard but really enjoy. Discovering postcards that your best friend sent you when you were eight when you finally clean out those piles of stuff in the basement. Discovering you actually really like brussel sprouts.
… or, you know, discovering that brussel sprouts are technically “brussels sprouts,” not just brussel (like I just did. I guess it makes sense, seeing as they’re named for Brussels).
Life is one big journey of discovering other and discovering self, and I for one am glad that is so. Just think how much less life would be if you never discovered that you love to read, or really enjoy learning new languages, or that science was your love language, or that you’re actually incredibly gifted at playing the maracas, or that your hair looks really good in a pixie cut, or that you have a knack for limericks. I don’t, by the way, have a knack for limericks (although that would be awesome).
What I do know is this: in 2010, I would have laughed in the face of anyone who called me “creative.” Creative? I’d say, Ha! Nope, not me. Not at all. I was the only kid in my year who joined technical theatre. I was the kid who read in her free time and did her geometry homework on the train ride home. I was one of those people who spent most of high school in math and science classes, never took an art class, and loved every second of it. Creative? Me? Not in a million years.
Oh, how very wrong I was.
Four years later, here I am. I’ve discovered a lot about myself since that point. I discovered how much I love to write. I discovered that I love photography. I discovered that you can make just about anything with fairy lights. I discovered that I really, really love traveling, and I discovered that even if you can’t go see the world at the moment? It only takes a bit of paper and string to bring the world to you.
…You just have to think a little bit outside of the box.
Mostly, though, I discovered that I’m creative. Not just in the sense that I can make things–whether that’s a map of the world on my living room wall or a really, really good batch of cookies (dark chocolate chunk with lime and coconut, anyone?)–but in the sense that I really, really enjoy creating.
creative, adj. having or showing an ability to make new things or think of new ideas.
There are a lot of great things that come with being alive: friends. family. food. sunsets. rolling hills. road trips. puppies. thunderstorms. modern art. ice cream. puns. the consistency of learning new things: every year, every month, every day—about everything.
There’s also a number of lousy things that come with being alive–from disease to poverty to lack of clean water to war and gun violence–but even they play a part of this mess we know as life. We run up against these things. They’re painful. They’re big, they’re messy. They’re scary. When I run into one of them–like news updates on ISIS, or Ferguson, or watching a friend struggle with a chronic disease, or hearing the latest school shooting discussed on NPR–sometimes all I want to do is crawl under the covers and pretend the world doesn’t exist. The brokenness of our world is so extensive that it quickly becomes completely overwhelming, and hope? Hope feels like a faded memory, and I’m stuck under my covers thinking that everything I do is completely and utterly purposeless.
A few things to remember at this point: first, that running into the hard parts of life always gives us perspective; second, that hope is tenacious; third, that there is more than one way to do purposeful work with your time.
I’ve been reading a lot of historical fiction lately–well, a lot more than I usually do–and much of these books have been set during World War II. They deal with different themes, different characters and places and struggles, but they each have at least one detail in common. When the protagonists come face-to-face with the war, they come face-to-face with the question of is what I do purposeful?
The answer is not always yes. Occasionally though, characters realize this: that even though they are not actively participating in the war effort–whether as a soldier or a nurse or a secretary in one of the government offices–they are still doing important things. In short, what are people fighting for?
Those things worth fighting for–beauty, and love, and friendship, and freedom, and laughter–those are expressed so, so thoroughly in acts of creativity. A movie came out this past spring called The Monuments Men. It focused on this small group of men who worked to rediscover and preserve the art that Hitler had stolen. There’s an amazing line said by the main character, Lieutenant Frank Stokes:
They tell us, “who cares about art?” But they’re wrong. It is the exact reason we are fighting. For culture. For a way of life.
Running up against the chaos and mess of life exhausts me. It overwhelms me. It saddens me. It makes everything seem pointless because even if you do this one good thing, what could you possibly do in the face of that? That’s a big problem, and you are so, so small.
And maybe you can’t do anything. You can’t sew up all the tears in the fabric of this world. Maybe you can’t do anything about people being murdered, or the poverty crisis, or the ebola outbreak, or the people who don’t have access to clean water or education. Those problems are too big for me; I don’t have the right experiences and skill sets to tackle them. I don’t.
What I can do is help others who are working on these problems. I can contribute financially–if only a little–and I can create. In my own small way, in my own small corner of the world, I can take pictures, string, and paper to show someone the world. I can create a level of order from the chaos. I can twist words around until they look lovely. I can make people smile with letters and postcards. I can remind people why we’re here, why we’re worth loving, why we’re worth fighting for, why what we do is so, so important.
I can’t change the world, but I can change people’s perspective. I can’t stop poverty, but I can stop procrastinating and make something with my time.
Here’s a thought: find what you’re good at. Find what you love. Is it completely impractical? That’s fine. Does it seem impossibly odd to you? Even better.
Now take one more step down that road of self-discovery and use it to build hope.