Fitz & The Tantrums Are “Pickin’ Up the Pieces,” But Why?

September 5, 2011 at 2:02 am, by

I think “punk motown” is how Mark Hoppus described Fitz & The Tantrums, and that’s why I bought their album Pickin’ Up the Pieces.

The title track of their debut CD is a gem. Co-written by Noelle Scaggs and Michael Fitzpatrick (the “Fitz” of the group’s name), “Pickin’ Up the Pieces” is not the deepest song ever, but the depth of its emotions and its few images are truly beautiful.

Although “the pieces” Fitz talks about are “the pieces of love,” the first verse makes it sound like other sparks are flying:

Feels like the stars fell down before us
In a dream of you and me,
Then, like, a storm came outta nowhere,
Turned my peace to misery.

Fitz feels like the stars came crashing down–splintering apart into a bunch of tiny fragments–and then a storm came and dispersed these miniscule pieces.

In the chorus, Fitz says he’s “been runnin’ now for days / pickin’ up the pieces of love.” (Those stars are apparently a metaphor for love.) Yet, in his panic to put back together those romantic sparks, Fitz concedes, “I’m not so sure it’ll go my way. / That’s just the just price of love.” Though his lover has “gone away,” our hero tells her, “You were the reason. You are the reason I stay.”

Cliché much? Idunno. To me, it’s less of a cliché, and more of a beautiful paradox. It’s one thing to wait for a lover who you know is coming, but it’s another thing to wait for a lover whose return you sincerely doubt.

Y’know, Jews have a strong tradition of picking up pieces despite their uncertainty.

You may have heard of Shevirat Hakkelim–the Breaking of the Vessels. It’s a creation myth from Lurianic Kabbalah that goes something like this:

  • God’s presence is everywhere in the universe. FUN FACT God’s Infinite presence is known as Ein SofHebrew for “There is no End.”
  • To make room for other things in the universe, God retreats into God’s self (i.e. does the opposite of expanding). FUN FACT: This process is called Tzimtzum (“Contraction”).
  • In the process of retreating into God’s self, God leaves Reshimu (“Impression” or “Residue”) and Din (God’s attribute of Strict Judgment) in the remainder of the universe.
  • God emanates a bright ray of Godliness into the mixture of Reshimu and Din that composes the rest of the universe.
  • Working together, the luminous ray, Reshimu, and Din form Adam Kadmon (“Primordial Humanity”).
  • Adam Kadmon emanates light from its ears, its mouth, and its nose in a beautifully Divine Unity.
  • However, Adam Kadmon emanates so much light from its eyes that this light deviates from the Unity and needs to be stored somewhere else.
  • Kelim (“Vessels”) are formed from “thicker” light, and these Kelim are used to store the excess light emanating from Adam Kadmon.
  • The Kelim break as tensions in the light rise.
  • In the end, Divinity–as embodied through God’s light–spreads throughout the universe as a result of the world of Adam Kadmon being incapable of containing Godliness.

But the myth of Shevirat Hakkelim doesn’t end there. (In fact, it doesn’t end.)

According to this mystical belief, we can return God’s light to a world of Godliness by performing mitzvot (“commandments” or “connections”) with the intention of restoring God’s Unity in the universe.

While I find this myth hard to accept as anything more than a metaphor for where God can and can’t be felt in the universe, I still believe that performing mitzvot is an act of Tikkun Olam–repairing the universe.

So, do I believe that I am picking up pieces of God so that all these pieces can get picked up in my lifetime? I doubt that my lifetime will see the fulfilling of any prophetic dream where the entire universe will acknowledge the Oneness of God (for example, Zechariah 14:9).

But, I believe that the mitzvot I perform help put together the puzzle pieces of a Godliness (or at least a Goodness) in the Universe that is loving and beautiful in the eyes of (most of) its (rational) beholders. And I am comforted daily by the fact that I’m not the only person trying to solve this Divine puzzle. Many wonderful people–many whom I don’t even know–are picking up the pieces with me.

So, Fitz, I think I know why you’re picking up those pieces. Even if you can’t put it all together, every small piece of something so loving is extremely precious.

In ways, you might be luckier than the Jews engaged in Tikkun Olam. Perhaps your lover will return in full form, and perhaps Jews will never see their entire universe repaired.

But, in ways, the people doing Tikkun Olam might be luckier than you, Fitz. Your effort might be in vain if your lover never comes. The way I see it: Tikkun Olam is most beautiful when it happens in pieces because Tikkun Olam cannot happen as a whole. I am satisfied seeing small bits of Tikkun Olam, and I wonder if small bits of lost love truly amount to anything. Don’t you need the lover entirely? After all, didn’t you tell your lover, “You are the reason I stay”?

When you pick up your pieces, what will be the reason you stay?

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