Every morning brings its own swirl of thoughts, repeating old patterns in new ways, each as unique as the whorl of a fingerprint. On any given walk, I think of about 5,000 different things. I often fall silent–in person as well as on social media–because I don’t know what to say. Not because there’s nothing to say, but because there’s so much. This morning as the first tiny bubbles begin to rise in the tea kettle, I am thinking about centers.
Is a center a mythical creature, some kind of psychic unicorn? Objects have centers, but though we spend a lot of time talking and thinking about our own centers, it seems to usually if not always be in the context of not having them or not being entirely sure where they are. We talk about needing to center ourselves, to find our centers, about doing centering exercises. And when we do find the center, it cannot hold–we have to return to recentering over and over again.
I wonder if we even have centers. Is there some magical core of each of us, some monolithic and unadulterated essence that shapes everything else?
My husband is getting ready to give a talk at school. The theme this year is identity. He’s gone back and forth trying to decide what to talk about–what aspect of his identity to discuss. He is a thousand things: man, husband, father, friend, brother, twin, gamer, historian, collector, comic book fan….. We are all a thousand things, a thousand-thousand things. Do any of us have a center? Are we beings like other vertebrates, whole unto ourselves? Or are we jellyfish, colonies of lives that coalesce into strange and wondrous constellations?
Yesterday I helped my uncle catch a swarm of honeybees and I realized that this is on my top-ten list of favorite things to do. I love swarms. I suspect there are two kinds of people–those who bliss out at the thought of standing surrounded by a humming cloud of golden wings, and those who would completely lose it. It’s not the sort of experience you can shrug off. The word “meh” is inapplicable. Later in the evening, on our family walk through woods and fields, Thing 1 started asking about bees, and I found myself explaining that a hive is like a single organism composed of thousands of individual lives. Perhaps we are all beehives, collections of gold and venom, beauty and need. I am the queen who lives in darkness, giver of life. I am the drone who may gorge one day on others’ work and the next, wingless, be cast out into winter’s cold. I am the worker who lives and dies by my industry, swept up in the rush of blue sky and the sweet heaviness of the communal dance.
Not only am I a thousand-thousand things, but I’m not even definitely most of those things. I am becoming, as I suspect we all are. I am in the most literal sense a mother–I have given birth to children–but I don’t have this mothering thing down. Not by a long shot. My mother has told me that when my siblings and I were children, she often wondered when the adults were going to show up and take charge. She is still becoming a mother, as am I. I am becoming a beekeeper, writer, wife, friend, sister, daughter, teacher, broadsword fighter, artist, gardener, minimalist, and a thousand-thousand other things. I’m working on finding an agent, improving my French, learning Irish, reading more diverse books by more women of color, living more sustainably, raising chicks, making a book, fighting the patriarchy, transforming the interiors of Altoids tins into tiny landscapes. None of these things, on its own, defines me. It is only by placing them in conversation with each other that I can even begin to tease out some sense of who I am.
If there is anything I can identify at the center, it is the search. For knowledge, for connection, for understanding, for truth. For the pattern that, when viewed from a distance, leads the eye along invisible lines between stars, tracing some discernible image against the night sky.
What is your center?