First, do me a favor: think construction paper (choose your color; mine is red, always red). In the center, imagine a fat black outline of a duck. Now place the paper on a sticky dwarfed table in front of a bunch of five-year-olds awkwardly holding some rubber-handled scissors.
Okay, now read.
Some skills we learn early. In fact, we learn them so early that we don’t actually remember learning them. At least not without some thought. Holding a pencil, tying our shoes, blowing our nose —skills we perform so instinctually that we don’t stop to think that once upon a time someone actually had to sit down and teach us how to do them. Random, mundane, perfunctory, but skills that, none the less, our lives wouldn’t be the same without.
I learned the rough cut in Ms. Peters’ kindergarten class. It was the room we’d followed the oversized green footsteps to — not the red ones that lined the other side of the L-shaped hallway and led to the first room on the left — but the green ones. Second door on the left, at the end of the hall.
For us rookie five-year-olds, cutting out that duck was a daunting task. But Ms. Peters threw us some hope when she taught us the rough cut. It was the cut before the cut. The uninhibited, outside-the-line free cut where we hacked and chopped and sliced a couple of inches away from whatever shape it was we’d eventually be making. It was the cut whose edges were supposed to be jagged and frayed. It wasn’t meant to look pretty and we didn’t have to worry about making mistakes. It was simply a first attempt, a place to start, a trimming away of the unwanted edges.
Sure, there are some more technical definitions. In filmmaking, it’s the stage when the film begins to resemble it’s final product. (When compared to how I feel about my writing, the descriptive phrases do not flow well and untreated, unmatched and generally unpleasant are so authentic they make me laugh.) In publishing, it’s leaving the edges of a book in an unfinished state. In the Bible, it’s a young king David taking what isn’t his. In sports, it’s Aaron Rodgers waiting his turn. In literature, it’s Wilbur before he meets Charlotte. In a sitcom, it’s Michael Scott . . .um, okay that one might be too much of a stretch even for an optimist like me.
In life, it’s my story and your story and, I’m learning, pretty much everyone’s story I know.
The thing I’ve come to realize though, and am starting to embrace, is that the rough cut isn’t a waste of my time. It’s not haphazard and isn’t done without care. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s thoughtful, intentional. It has vision and purpose. It’s the process of becoming something that may one day actually look like that stupid duck. And while it’s not done without some unbearably ugly and gutfully painful chops, it’s okay because it’s all part of completing the picture.
So, here’s to Ms. Peters and clunky fat scissors and scraps of paper that fall at our feet. Here’s to strange-looking shapes with unfinished edges that give us the freedom to be who we are while still holding before us who we want to become. Here’s to finally understanding that the rough cut is a necessary and invaluable part of life, faith and living out our dreams.
Oh, and here’s to my blog that allows me to hack and slice away – edges jagged, frayed and unfinished indeed. And for the record, I can’t remember if it was a duck or circle or some other simple barnyard-geometric-animal-type shape. But, I’m guessing you get it by now. Doesn’t really matter, because it’s all . . . part of the cut.