I love tapestries. I love the depth that comes from layers of strings coming together, the texture that naturally happens, the rich colors used, the momentous scenes they often show. Individual threads weave in and out of others to create meaning from shared combinations. No form of art is immediate, but I’ve always thought that tapestries in particular must take longer to create. They are intricate, complex, full of meaning, beautiful, and majestic.
And yet, the entire tapestry is not like this. Flip one over, and it’s a mess. Threads cross over each other arbitrarily and look more tangled than a toddler’s hair. Frayed edges are visible, pieces don’t fit nicely together, and the threads often seem to diverge and suddenly disappear. Knots attack the strings like seagulls at a beach picnic. In a word, it’s ugly. Messy. And often, there is no sense of the direction of the thread or the greater image these strings are creating.
For a long time, I’ve thought about that front side of a tapestry and compared it to life. I’ve always loved the idea that different threads weave in and out of our lives and form beautiful images that they couldn’t otherwise do alone. I love the idea that these threads connect us to those around us through this journey of life and form something beautiful. But it wasn’t until recently that I realized the metaphor is more fitting when we use the entire tapestry as a comparison.
The front of a tapestry is beautiful, just as life is. When we look at a tapestry, we see that beauty and easily figure out what the picture is, and this can hold true in our lives as well. We are often able to look at our lives and recognize its beauty, the intricate connections, the bigger picture. It’s easy to do so when the threads are immediately visible and those connections tangible.
But more frequently, that’s not the case. Sometimes we can’t see the bigger picture. We fail to understand the “why” behind something. We can’t connect our present experience to a greater future. We lose that vision or the immediate sense of beauty.
Sometimes, we might feel stuck looking at the back of that tapestry. That it’s nailed to the wall backwards and the image on the front will never actually appear. It’s important to recognize these moments. We can’t repress pain, hurt, or frustration and still be able to fully live. But just as it is important to acknowledge these knots and tangles in our lives, it is even more crucial to realize we are only looking at part of the story. Though we feel like the tangles are stopping us from getting anywhere or the threads are misaligned beyond hope of repair, we must remember that the front of the tapestry is there, just beyond reach at the present moment. And we have to keep in mind that when we do get the chance to flip it over, all the tangles and knots don’t disappear. Instead, they are woven into the very essence of the tapestry and are used to create something bigger and more beautiful than their individual pieces. A tapestry wouldn’t exist without tangles: the threads would fall apart. In the same way, life wouldn’t exist without struggle. Joy, love, and peace find their fullest meaning through experiences of the contrast. What we must do, then, is keep moving, to take that first step, even when we “don’t see the whole staircase” (Martin Luther King, Jr.). And in doing so, we move the tapestry from back to front, one step at a time.