When my mother died, I found a box of half-finished cross-stitched snowflakes among her belongings at the nursing home. I took them home, completed them and gave some of them away. A few I saved for Christmas decorations. I was delighted in a number of ways. First, I was glad she continued to pursue some of the hobbies I knew she enjoyed. She loved working on crafts of one kind or another, having partnered with my dad to create some pretty spectacular items for the annual fundraising holiday bazaar for the local hospital. She could do pretty much everything, though she confessed she could never conquer tatting. Sewing, knitting, crocheting, and a myriad of other talents were well within her purview. Busy with one thing or another, right up to the end, leaving at least one project unfinished.
I too have given up on a number of projects. Knitting is simply beyond me. Every attempt at a scarf ended up looking like the map for a rustic road: all curves and varying terrain. Best to set that aside. Books too. If I’m not hooked by the first 50 pages, I chuck it. Life is too short to spend time reading a book I don’t care for. And there aren’t that many I don’t care for anyway.
Three weeks before our daughter’s wedding, I was so frustrated with the dress I was making, I tossed the whole thing. Then what to do? I pulled out a long dress that I wore occasionally for teaching. Round neckline and sleeveless, the color blended from pale aqua down to the hem of dark aqua, a straight and plain shot. I even had shoes to match already. And a big white summer garden hat with a flash of turquoise silk flowers. I thought, if I can find a scarf to match this dress, this is what I’m wearing, old or not. By some miracle, a local store did have a scarf with the same flow of colors! I hauled out my grandmother’s opera length pearls, and I was set to go.
But some unfinished projects stick with me for a long time. Students, for example. We work together for long stretches of time, and then, they, unfinished projects, move on to other things. Now, this is exactly what should happen. But I still wonder where they go, what they do, how they evolve. Sometimes I get feedback, of course, but I still wonder. Do they realize I think of them when I cruise an art museum, or read a particularly well-done piece of writing? Of course, others picked up where I left off, so these particular human unfinished projects continue to grow in directions I may never see.
Most important in my life, our children are also unfinished projects. Yes, the day that a son or daughter says, “Don’t worry. I’ll get the check” is a red-letter day, because I know they are truly on the way to self-sufficiency. I’ll always be a parent, but I can untie the apron strings and be more prudent about my suggestions. The “children” may be unfinished, but my part of that project is pretty well over. I get the added bonus of watching them raise another living being, our grandchildren. That is their project, not mine. But I still get plenty of benefits from their efforts. There’s a certain freedom in those kinds of unfinished projects.
So, I help build the ship, then crack the bottle of champagne on the bow, and watch the ship ease down the slip. To each and every Unfinished Project, I say, check your maps for hidden reefs, plot your paths, and try to plan for contingencies. Then my final words: “Off you go!”