We spend so long pretending that we are, or seeking to make ourselves, “whole” that we have been distracted from the truth—we come in pieces. From the cells in our bodies to the hairs on our heads, our thoughts and words and the hypocrisies to which we fall victim. From our first squealing breaths as we emerge into this world: attached to a cord, attached to a placenta, attached to a mother, from all of which we are detached.
These are the pieces from which we are made. Our minds, no less, our knowledge, also comes in pieces. It is relayed to us as propaganda, education, opinion. We fill in the blanks, we assemble ourselves, we reassemble ourselves. We are the ultimate transformers. Even now, your cells are reforging themselves, dying and being reborn.
On a school excursion, I once watched a scientist extracting DNA. She held up a tiny vial and used a pair of tweezers to tease a pale, viscous substance into the light so that the whole class could see. This is what you’re made of.
It’s nonsense, of course, but that’s not to say it isn’t true.
And so, assuming that you are willing to accept the proposition that us living beings come in pieces, the next logical realisation is that so does everything else. The entire world is in pieces. The Universe. And as such, it quickly becomes self-evident that any concept of wholeness is a fiction.
Why then this yearning, this constant search for togetherness?
There are functional concerns to consider. A machine does not work without the union of its parts. And human beings are nothing if not spectacular machines. Our blood would not flow if not for our hearts and our hearts would not pump if it weren’t for our brains.
An origami duck, unfolded, becomes a sheet of paper. A sheet of paper, laid flat, reveals a recipe for soup. And just like that—our yearning for wholeness—carries yet more subtle realisations, hidden between the folds.
We know nothing of what existed before the Universe came into existence. But somehow, out of that murky, incomprehensible void something changed. Something… came together.
Out of that cosmogonic collision was a rapid exhalation, creating space and time and matter and, even, eventually… on a certain spinning rock, perhaps the most fantastic thing of all: an awareness with which it could perceive itself.
And so, from the absoluteness of a void in which nothing existed, was born a Universe
diverse enough in its constituents to create life. In order to know itself the Universe had to separate itself. And we must do the same, no longer seeking wholeness—some entropic void in which to melt away—but by seeking to comprehend the disparate pieces from which all this has been assembled.
We can do this by acknowledging the pieces that make up our world, and our lives. Firstly, we must accept that there is not one unifying truth but a multitude of complexities, patterns within patterns, cells composed of atoms composed of… strings? Perhaps vibrating to a tune we cannot hear: a cosmic symphony playing out in the explosions of stars and emotions.
It is overwhelming to think that way. The weight of it is crushing. It is far easier to dispel the shades of grey and view things in black and white; life as a set of IKEA instructions, some paradoxical Escherian nightmare.
Instructions are useful. We cannot dissociate ourselves entirely from order. But we must steel our constant search for it against the fundamental understanding that we come in pieces.
Order from chaos is a lofty ideal, but even that simple supposition is based on
the idea that chaos exists at all. And if chaos exists, once we have built our Towers of Babel, everything is still—at its core—composed of chaos. A cake is not an egg, but it has eggs in it.
In accepting this we come closer to understanding ourselves and our place in the Universe. Our imperfections define us, just as the undulations of gravitational waves reveal their existence to researchers.
We must work towards smaller, achievable goals. We must ignore the picture on the front of the jigsaw box and instead focus on how the individual pieces fit together.
We will get old this way. The years will slip past and, one day, we may find ourselves at the communal table of a nursing home and realise that the jigsaw laid out before us is still incomplete. Perhaps a few pieces are lost, or have simply fallen from the table.
Sometimes, a passer-by, a stranger, an acquaintance, a friend, will offer up one of these pieces as they pass. Invite them in for a closer look, because others are often uniquely capable of fitting things together where we could see no way forward.
And even then as the shadows lengthen and the dinner bell rings, will we realise that there’s no pieces left—that the picture is whole. But it does not match the picture on the box.
Sometimes, we’re left with a picture we did not expect; something that we have never seen before and could never have imagined. And it is in that moment, as we struggle to catch our breath, that we finally achieve the exact intention with which the Universe—and we—were created.