Pictures make powerful story prompts, and this picture of a crumbling sidewalk is no exception. It strikes me as a metaphor for our path thorough life and fits with the general theme of the new year and story.
Each New Year’s Day I’m reminded that life is a cyclical process. Each year exists within the “container” of twelve oscillating months that fit on a series of rectangular sheets roughly the shape of a sidewalk slab progressing through the year.
Though some may be similar, no two years are quite the same. Even on a newly poured sidewalk, you’ll find variations from one slab to the next, and by the time a sidewalk reaches the age and condition of this one, the differences among the sections are huge.
Each year in our lives has a story to tell. Although it’s anyone’s guess what it might be, it appears likely that each section of this sidewalk experienced some individually unique stresses, leading to its individual array of cracks, chunks and deformities.
This sidewalk is a visible record of the effects of a year – probably in reality a series of years. Our life writing, whether public or private is a visible record of the effects of years on our lives.
A freshly poured sidewalk traversing a lovely landscape is relatively uninteresting in its apparent uniformity and smoothness. It’s good for roller skating, pushing strollers, and playing hopscotch, but otherwise little more than a convenience for walking from place to place. A life with no challenges would be a dull life indeed.
This sidewalk is full of stories. It has repairs and subsidence and other areas that appear to be intact. Some spots are damp. How did this all happen? Is this the result of natural aging or damage? Has it experienced floods? Did a careless crane drop a wrecking ball? What might that have felt like, and how does the sidewalk see itself now? Various years evoke similar questions.
Looking toward the future, this sidewalk will need further repair to remain safe and useful. Lives sometimes need repair, and writing can be a powerful way to effect it.
Taken as a whole, this sidewalk is traveled by people on their way to a destination. Whatever the condition of the rest of the path, this section presents challenges to keep your balance and avoid stumbling. Some years are like that.
At this point my mind wanders to another task for today or tomorrow: updating my personal timeline – the rough equivalent of adding a new block to the sidewalk of my life. I see the similarity between my timeline and this sidewalk. Each year on my timeline is different. Some years were smooth, some were rough and challenging.
Like this sidewalk, the challenging years are the most intriguing, the most likely to provide insight, and the most likely to intrigue readers if I write about them.
I find a certain sort of dignified beauty in this sidewalk, and also in years of challenge.
Write now: Update your personal timeline. Start one if you don’t have one. Pick a year that was especially challenging and write about it. Describe each of the fragments, and how it came to be. What did it mean to you then, and what lessons have you learned? Use this sidewalk graphic as a prompt if it fits.
Photo credit: Bart Everson