When I was 20, I read Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins. I re-read it and several of his other novels over the next few years. Looking back, I realize that it was the perfect book to help me make the transition from the sci-fi and fantasy into which I constantly escaped during the turbulent teen years that followed my parents’ divorce to the real, grown-up world. Robbins’ “crazy wisdom” was just what I needed at the time, and I’d even go so far as to say that it probably has something to do with the way I approach life.
A few years ago, after my own divorce, I somehow came across this Tom Robbins quote:
When we’re incomplete, we’re always searching for somebody to complete us. When, after a few years or a few months of a relationship, we find that we’re still unfulfilled, we blame our partners and take up with somebody more promising. This can go on and on–series polygamy–until we admit that while a partner can add sweet dimensions to our lives, we, each of us, are responsible for our own fulfillment. Nobody else can provide it for us, and to believe otherwise is to delude ourselves dangerously and to program for eventual failure every relationship we enter.
I agree with him completely that people tend to seek completeness in pairing. (Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.) But what I find more interesting about this quote is his assumption that completeness is even possible.
“When we’re incomplete” is always. We are incomplete from the moment we’re born and we never lose that sense of incompleteness. Ever. Think about it. Everything we do—get married, get a degree, buy some material thing—we do because we believe it will complete us in some way. But after we do those countless things towards that end, we inevitably still feel like there’s something missing, and so we keep looking. We buy more, go to school more, marry somebody else. The closest we ever get to being complete is having kids. But that still only completes a part of us.
People (in Western culture? or is it just Americans?) seem to assume that incompleteness is a bad thing. This is where they make their biggest mistake, and one that, if you ask me, prevents them from ever being truly happy. But I think this permanent sense of incompleteness is not just good, but essential. It drives us to love somebody, to create, to have kids, to strive. So if we were ever completed, we would lose our reason for living…
If you can accept that we must live our lives feeling incomplete, understand that it’s a good thing, and embrace it, you can get more pleasure out of the loving, learning, creating, and even material things because you won’t have the expectation that they will do more for you than they will. All these things do is make a moment better; they add a sweet dimension.
I’m sure lots of other people realize this. Well, some people. Mostly Buddhists, probably.