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  • Writer's pictureKaren L Kurtz


Updated: May 20

She eases the box from the top shelf and brushes the dust from its lid.

Lifting one corner she catches the scent of forgotten things wafting out.

On top is a photo, an image of herself, clear-eyed and confident from an earlier time.

Below that, a collection of oddments from her life:

-Gold-stickered certificates of merit;

-A red-leather journal of childish sketches and big thoughts;

-Snapshots, some faded into a silvery fog;

-A brownie pin, a shiny buckeye, a tooth the fairy never found;

-A stone she’d slipped into her pocket on a mountain peak;

-An ochre-edged rose, fragile as the young woman who had pulled it from a casket spray;

-And more.

She thinks of the interlocking pieces of herself, die-cut by DNA and by choices she has made.

Granted, the over-bearing faults have been carefully sorted out of this box.

But she wonders, when the pieces are all laid in place,

Do they look like the picture on the top?

I recall this poem was written sometime before middle age but after youth. I had found myself in another stage of adulthood, which required some updates in the way I thought of myself. It seems that each new stage of life demands renovations in our psyches. And the question surfaces—do the interlocking pieces of myself look like the picture on the top? Do the parts of me add up to the image I have of myself?

We’re conditioned to expect the things we’ve brought to fruition in every stage of life will simply accrue and be carried forward with us into subsequent stages. We’re not taught to prepare for the time (which comes to us all) when we collide with limitations.

Limitations typically show up long before we expect them. Sometimes physical changes in our bodies or in our health require us to self-identify in an unfamiliar way. It’s a time when we must summon up new attitudes. Patience and compassion toward ourselves are needed.

Limitations mark a time when many of the interlocking pieces of ourselves are made redundant in the psyche. We may be forced to relinquish the very thing we’ve worked so hard to achieve in a previous stage. The career we loved, the talent we had honed, the activities we cherished. If we live a long life, relinquishing our old self-image is one of the most difficult things we’ll ever face.

Letting go of an old identity is not a negation of our worth. The parts which have been removed from active duty in the personality have intrinsic value of showing us where we have been. It may be meaningful to have an ongoing keepsake box where small tokens remind us of those old identities we’ve retired. It is not empty sentimentality to save mementos, especially when they are imbued with memories. Each item serves as a placeholder in one’s personal history.

When parts of ourselves are made redundant it does not make us “less than whole.” Each stage of life presents us with a new puzzle of interlocking pieces to put together. It's important to keep updating the picture on the top. To let ourselves know that different stages of life require different attitudes, different skillsets, different pacing.

Maybe the goal in any stage is to make sure the interlocking pieces look like the picture on the top.


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