The Sum of My Parts
June 11th, 2010

I write to you today from the desert valley of Nevada.  I am in Las Vegas for the first time in nine years, attending a conference for work.  I arrived on Wednesday and have quickly remembered all of the things I love and don’t love about this city. 

The food is astounding (especially on my company’s dime), the shows are phenomenal, and the entire place is a grownup’s playground.  On the flip side of the coin, it’s 400 degrees outside, I’ve smelled like cigarette smoke for three days now, and the environmentalist within me can’t help but feel guilty for contributing to the continued existence of a city that, quite frankly shouldn’t exist.  (Pardon me while I silently channel my mother and get all hot and bothered (understandably, it’s 400 degrees outside, remember?) about how planting such a resource-intensive city in the middle of resource-less desert is a crime against nature. …  Okay, I’m finished now.)  But then again, the food really is fantastic!

Eye candy and creature comforts aside, it was the flight into this play-land of a city that sent my mind on an existential chase. 

No matter how many times I do it, I will never tire of flying across the Rocky Mountains.  The view from the air is unlike anything you can experience from the ground, or even from an aerial photograph.  The landscape changes in front of your eyes as the flat and agricultural plains of Kansas give way to the rolling foothills of the Rockies.  And just as quickly those foothills are transformed into full-fledge mountains, which transform yet again as you bend South into the craggy cliffs and bluffs of New Mexico and Arizona. 

After a childhood spent vacationing there it is the pine covered forests of Colorado that usually capture my heart.  But on Wednesday it was in my gazes down on those Southwestern cliffs and bluffs that I looked out and saw myself. 

Sedimentary rock.  This part of the country is made up of sedimentary rock.  The land was formed by layers and layers of sandstone and silt and shale settling upon each other and sacrificing their individual natures to join together and create something unified.  Through a process that I’ve learned is called lithification, the layers of sedimentary rock are compacted, cemented, and recrystallized.  And it is that recrystallization that most interests me.  It means that the layers, which were once something separate and distinct, become a single substance.  Yet the mesas and buttes still betray their composition, revealing rust colored stripes in places where wind and water have eroded their sides. 

The analogy of layers in people is not novel.  As we discover and explore the many facets of ourselves and our counterparts we make mention of layers, frequently citing the peeling back of those layers to get to the “true nature” of someone.  But (at least for today) I find fault with this analogy.  Rather than peeling away my layers to uncover my true essence, I believe I am the sum total of my layers.  Like the rugged desert landscape, my layers do not mask me, they become me.  I too am recrystallized into something unified that represents the full spectrum of my life. 

I am the product of the people, places, and experiences that have comprised me.  To look at some aspect of myself absent the others is to obfuscate the complex and nuanced person I am.  Like the cliffs and bluffs on the ground beneath that shiny plane I am one; a single, a whole, a unified person.  Yet within that single, whole, unified person exist myriad components, none of which can stand alone, as they are all connected tightly together as Gale.    

I find comfort in this unified theory of Gale.  It means that I can embrace myself as I am, not needing to emphasize or diminish any part of myself in an effort to become something else.  This is what I am, and it is a welcoming way to think of myself.

2 Responses to “The Sum of My Parts”

  1. BigLittleWolf Says:

    I like your concept that we are the sum of our layers, rather than the focus of peeling away at them to get to some true core.

    Perhaps both analogies are true, but in different contexts. The former, when looking at our perspectives as the sum of our experiences, and the latter, when we are in the mode of self-protection, or getting to know someone, slowly.

    Wonderful metaphors in the notions of time and archaeological strata. And it looks like a beautiful place for a vacation, besides!

    (Or should I say !!!)

  2. Cathy Says:

    Such a great post and different, yet somehow obvious, perspective. Thanks for making me think.

    BTW – I go to Vegas every May. I don’t like it at all. The cigarette smoke everywhere and the trash – just take a note of the trash. Yuck! Aside from all the standard trash, you have all those cards people flip at you as you walk down the strip advertising the seedier side of life. For me, the grandiose of Vegas is far out-shadowed by the nasty.