Have any of you ever pondered individuality? The uniqueness of every human? Maybe it’s just one more piece of evidence that I’m a weirdo (the writing’s been on the wall for years, anyway. Good thing I’m okay with it! 😉 ), but every once in a while the complexity of the people around me strikes me anew.
Recently it’s been my Historiography class that’s gotten me thinking about it. The two realities of all that people have in common and the uniqueness of the individual make for fascinating class discussions, and give lots of fodder for thoughts to keep you up at night. Because historians, and most people, rightly speak of “human nature”. There are aspects of humanity that we all have in common, patterns that historians can detect and describe in the actions of groups, nations, rulers…
Yet at the same time, each human is unique. We have a will, we have a mind, and other people can seldom accurately predict how another person will act unless they know them very well. And where’s the balance? Where’s the balance between the patterns exhibited by the peoples, the loose generalities one can make about groups, and the…the unknowability of the individual?
Unknowability meaning that no one can know an individual in their entirety, not even that individual himself. There are different levels of knowing a person that we can achieve, and it’s often a beautiful thing to reach that place of deep knowing where you feel they’re as familiar to you as your own self. But you still don’t know them in their entirety. You don’t know every moment they remember, every moment they wish they could forget. You can’t discover every lost memory, you can’t feel every secret hurt or joy. You can’t see every path that they have crossed, every heart that they have touched however unknowingly, every influence that has gone into making them who they are. We can’t even know all of these things about ourselves.
Every stray thought, every shared smile, every moment of curiosity, every hidden world, every secret hope, every crossed path…every aspect of what we think, what we do, who we serve, how we live all combines with a thousand other pieces to make each of us who we are. And then you take that individuality, and you place them together. Two people are having coffee, each bringing their unique existence and stories together and adding another thread to the other’s life. People pass on the street, stepping past strangers with the same rich complexity that they carry inside them but without knowing, often without seeing. Family gathers together, and their mingling includes a great backdrop of a thousand past days, past conversations, bringing joy and pain to bear.
Each person made of millions of threads of a myriad different hues, and each person woven into the great tapestry of history. The historian can choose to press in, to try and examine the single threads of a person’s life and explain their place. Or the historian can step back, to puzzle together one corner of the pattern within the tapestry and showing how it influences the threads within and the larger design without. But there are threads that fall to the background, that aren’t visible to us but nevertheless play an indispensable part to the whole. There are patterns misunderstood, seen as representative of the entire design when they are only a small piece lending itself to the larger masterpiece. No one, no historian, no human being, can see it all. No one can see every thread’s importance in the larger design. No one can know the whole picture of the tapestry. No one except the Weaver: the Author of all history and the Creator of every individual.
And when it strikes me, the great complexity of this world and its people that only God can fully know, oh it humbles me. As a history student, and as writer…. because in my stories, my small weavings, I’m only imitating the Master. I’m taking hues that He created, copying caricatures of masterpieces He has set in place, and I’m using the finite piece of the creativity He shared with His creation to shape it all into something to point to the glory of the original. I can never capture the complexity, I can never fully recreate even a piece of what God knows. I’m a child with crayons trying to recreate the Pieta, a little girl drawing in the dirt to capture the glory of a sunset. And I love it. Because even though my stories are flawed, even though I know they fall so very short of the complex, difficult reality in which we live and the Lord above it all, if they can lead people to search for the original, isn’t their purpose fulfilled? I wouldn’t want my scribblings to rival the Master’s work, even if it were possible. I wouldn’t want my tiny creations to stand on their own. It’s much better if my flawed renderings of the tapestry surrounding us point back to the larger work, to the source of my ability to create them in the first place. Because isn’t that why I received the skill to make them in the first place?
There you have it! My jumbled, dramatic thoughts on individuality. Do I need another nap and some coffee, in that order? Probably, yeah. Do I believe what I’ve said? Definitely. There’s a lot in this broken world filled with broken people that terrifies me, that breaks my heart. But I don’t want to let that brokenness hide the glorious beauty of God’s creation…it really is the original work of art.