The Hand You Were Dealt
In Kathleen Jamie’s poem, “Mr and Mrs Scotland are Dead”, the speaker comes across postcards with fragments of the eponymous lives recorded on them and says, “here is the hand you were dealt”.
In Amor Towles’ novel, “The Rules of Civility”, choices and events in life are also looked at using cards as a metaphor:
“… we draw a card and discard the next, or discard the first card and keep the second. And before we know it, the deck has been played out and the decisions we have just made will shape our lives for decades to come.”
The last twenty-four hours saw a few random life-cards appear at the top of my deck and I enjoyed playing them. Reminiscing on facebook, an overdue coffee with a friend and an email out of the blue from long ago and far away. I feel as if I have been leafing through stacks of memories. (I have – literally as well as metaphorically.)
Self under self, a pile of selves I stand
Threaded on time, and with metaphysic hand
Lift the farm like a lid and see
Farm within farm, and in the centre, me.
Sometimes when I am living life, I think, “these are the things I do” and “these are the places I go” and “these are the people I know” and I live in general terms. But years later, the memories are far more specific.
It is the point and time in history I wrote that letter, or drew that picture (or indeed shaped that clay head or ineptly sewed that lilac wall-hanging). It is the specific flight I took, the specific road I walked down, the particular meal I ate.
There is, I suppose, a general life ‘style’, but life is made moment by moment, “I stand/Threaded on time”.
Perhaps a tipping point comes to most of us in life, when we can lift the “farm like a” lid on the past and look objectively at the stack of events, relationships and decisions that resulted in the present, or, as MacCaig perhaps suggests, the stack of selves that result in the eventual self.
Out of the general lifestyle we hang onto specific memories: the time we met someone, understood something, made something, went somewhere – punctuating our lives so that when we read it back it makes sense.
In the movie, “Dead Poets’ Society”. Mr Keating, a teacher, is showing some teenagers the school photographs of their predecessors at the school. He tells them:
“They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you, their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? – – Carpe – – hear it? – – Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”
I think that all human lives are extraordinary – the hand you were dealt – it’s all specific and unique and pinned down in history. But still, I agree that one might as well seize the day, shuffle the deck and … play…