Posted by: susanideus | November 28, 2009

My Life as Metaphor

“We should probably all pause to confront our past from time to time, because it changes its meaning as our circumstances alter.”

~Karen Armstrong in A Spiral Staircase

Some time ago, I wrote that my life was like a incomplete jigsaw puzzle with some pieces likely lost forever. I was reacting to news of my mother’s seeming deception about the fact that I had a sister I’d never known about. It was hurtful and puzzling and I was not happy about it. I felt that she’d somehow short-changed me, that she never really shared herself with me. She was gone and I would probably never find the answers I sought. All of that was true.

That being said, I’ve come to a point where that old metaphor no longer suits me, or my life as it is today. If I hang on to that image, my life will never be complete—there will always be something missing. I will be somehow incomplete, and I find that I don’t like that image at all.

What else fits? I wondered. I decided to think about it for awhile as I tackled the project of straightening out my yarn and embroidery floss collection. I love to crochet, knit and do counted cross-stitch.

With the latter, I always feel as though I’m “painting” on blank fabric when I start, following a chart and ending up with a lovely piece of needlework. Sometimes I change a color or type of floss, to make it more to my liking. Thinking back to when I was a cross-stitch novice, I was still in the perfectionist stage of my life. Any misplaced of uncrossed stitch caused me to rip out rows of work to fix, a real agonizing task. Then came the day I had a piece finished and ready to frame when I noticed two errors. I was so upset, muttering to myself. My husband came in and asked what was wrong. I practically threw the fabric at him—“It’s ruined, there are two huge errors, and it was supposed to be for Deb’s birthday day after tomorrow.”

Harold took the fabric, examined it from every angle, upside down and front and back. “I honestly can’t see anything wrong.”

“Seriously?” I asked.

“Seriously, I think this is one of the best pieces you’ve ever done. Let’s get it framed.”

“Hold it up so I can see it again. Closer…now turn it to the light. Hold the frame up to it.” Trying as hard as I could to find them, from a normal viewing distance the “huge” errors were invisible, even to me. Well…

Maybe I could be like that piece of embroidery. I knew there were errors, just as I knew my life had errors—missing pieces of information that had always made me feel less than complete. But, I reasoned, if the embroidery was looked at as a whole, it was a lovely picture, worthy of being a gift to a cherished friend.

How could I be any less? Missing pieces, known only to me, could diminish me only if I let them. I didn’t have the option, however painful, of ripping things out and starting again. I am what I am. And you know what, taken as a whole, I’m pretty darned good. I’m worthy in my own right, a person worth knowing, worth having as a friend, worth my own admiration and my own approval. Just like my cross-stitch!



  1. Love it, Susan! I know just how you felt about those two little cross-stitch mistakes–and maybe, after a while, you can think of your mom in that same way, too. A couple of mistakes in a lifetime of effort: not so much, and barely visible from a distance. I always think that writing helps to give us that distance. Thanks for sharing!

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