In my teen years, I spent considerable time pondering the nature of knots. How is it, I wondered, that I can wrap up something like a string of Christmas lights in a perfect loop, stash it in a bin, and somehow, without the slightest manipulation of human hand, the string of lights will become a mess of twisted cord and bulbs? One wonders if some elemental force exists which is bent on the tangling of every string-shaped object in the universe.
Really, I think this may be the case.
My Dad was a world class undoer of knots. Not only was he good at it, he actually seemed to enjoy it. My mom told me the thin chains of her necklaces would often get tangled while they sat in the bins of the jewelry box (it seems jewelry boxes are insufficient defense against the elemental force of tangling), and whenever this happened, she would hand the delicate jumble of gold chain to my father, who would gladly spend hours dissecting and restoring it to its original luster and usefulness.
I’ve inherited this quirk of Dad’s. With most things, I’m terribly impatient, but give me a knot to work on, and watch me enter a vortex where time has no meaning. I’ll pick through that thing for hours if you give me that much time.
Life does a splendid job of creating knots for us, don’t you think? Sometimes, my whole life feels like a giant knot, along with my body. I wonder if knots are so much a part of Life because in some way or another, each one of us is meant to untangle those pesky things.
My dad’s metaphorical knot came in the form of rocks – hundreds of them. When I was little, we moved into a house atop a big dirt hill. Over the years, that dirt hill became several tiers of custom landscaping, complete with a long cement staircase. The most distinguishable characteristic of this earthy art piece was the rocks. Dad spent years constructing a series of walls out of these slate gray rocks he had trucked in. He did it all with his own hands. When he bought that house, he must have looked at the big dirt mound and thought, That’s a hell of a big knot.
He was an artist, my dad – an artist of earth and rock. I believe he could have made a go as a professional in the field, had he chosen to take the risk. Perhaps he should have. It might have saved his life.
When you find a thing that does for you what building rock walls did for my dad, I think you must do that thing. That thing is your knot to untangle, and there’s only one way to untangle a knot. You just gotta do it. It won’t get untangled by overindulgence – not in junk food, not in booze, not by moving up in your career, not by blowing money on useless crap, and certainly not by binge watching Netflix. Untying knots is work, man. It’s work that, if left undone, will fester inside until there’s nothing left of you.
This morning, I sat in a hallway at the music store while my son took his weekly trumpet lesson. In the room beside me, a group of eight people or so sat in a circle; each cradled a drum. The sounds that emanated from this room over the ensuing thirty minutes soothed my soul – the chants, the syncopation of deep and high tones, and the incessant drive of the beat, beat, beat. I placed my head against the outside wall of the room, absorbing the rhythms, and I thought then that this is a what it’s like when a group of people gathers and practices untangling knots.
What sort of knots are you meant to untangle? Likely, you know the answer. Most of us know the answer early in life, but we lose sight of it by overthinking. Whatever it is, I hope you’ll not leave it sitting in a bin. I hope you’ll pull that thing out and go to work. And don’t worry about running out of things to do. Life will always make more knots.