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09 November 2015

Jig Saw Puzzle

One recent afternoon I walked into our academic division office at my college and noticed a wooden jig saw puzzle on an empty desk. The puzzle seemed unique and from another time and place.

I started talking to our Senior Administrative Assistant, Cynthia Bradbury, and she told me how she painstakingly put the puzzle together and how difficult it was since there was no picture to go by. At first it seemed almost impossible to figure out how each tiny wooden piece fit together. I remember puzzles in my childhood as always having pictures on the boxes. How would you know if you liked the puzzle or even wanted to buy in the first place if you didn't know what the image looked like beforehand?

I thought to myself, the picture or the box the puzzle came in must have been lost. But this wasn't the case. 

This particular puzzle is from the Moultonborough, New Hampshire home of Lael Schaffer Calendar, paternal grandmother of our institute Dean, Dr. Carl Calendar. Dr. Calendar remembers vividly his grandmother sitting in the great room of her home doing similar puzzles by the light of a big window.

I thought how strange that the puzzles in those days contained only titles (names) on the box but no images (as shown from the box below). So, the idea was to put it together and be surprised with the outcome?

How much of life is like this puzzle as we fumble to fit one piece together, mostly in the dark, with the hope of seeing some type of discernible outline or plan for where the next piece goes.

If given a choice, would you rather have the picture of the puzzle in advance or accept that you've got to work very hard to fit each piece together, never knowing the final outcome until very late in the process? 

Some people seem blessed or lucky or privileged to get the images much sooner than others, but are these images truth or just pretty lies? One day we realize we're working on the wrong puzzles with all the wrong pieces.

Dean Calendar, ever the literary-minded soul, remarked that my thesis made him think of a poem, "I Go Back to May, 1937" by Sharon Olds:

". . .they are about to graduate, they are about to get married,   
they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are   
innocent, they would never hurt anybody.   
I want to go up to them and say Stop,   
don’t do it—she’s the wrong woman,   
he’s the wrong man, you are going to do things
you cannot imagine you would ever do,   
you are going to do bad things to children,
you are going to suffer in ways you have not heard of,
you are going to want to die. I want to go
up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it,
her hungry pretty face turning to me,   
her pitiful beautiful untouched body,
his arrogant handsome face turning to me,   
his pitiful beautiful untouched body,   
but I don’t do it. I want to live. . ."

The wrong puzzle? The wrong pieces? Not enough light to see what they're actually doing?

Collectively, individually, we live guided by images that may have little if any resemblance to the true image we're striving to create, yet those false images are powerful enough to keep us going, to delude us long enough into thinking we're secure and following some plan that of course has to work out because all human plans always work out perfectly anyway.

But again what is the right or true picture?  

Do we sign up before we're even born to put together one puzzle or another, collude in spiritual contracts with the people we'll meet in this life or future lives who'll help us to find and to fit the pieces together?

Is this puzzle sent to us by Divine forces? 

Do we dream up our portrait based completely on our own desires?

We have an epidemic of anxiety and mental illness in our society, often forcing pieces together that don't work, that can't work, and we keep pouring more energy into the process and becoming more frustrated and more sure that the false image we're pursuing is actually truth and worthy of all the time energy and money we might devote to the process, despite the inevitability that the pieces simply don't fit together.

If only we could all sit together by the great window and carefully, lovingly, inspect each puzzle piece, ever so gently, to see how it fits together with the next before rushing to judgement or demanding to see in advance the images we seek. To actually trust that there are those who will at times just show up and help us to form the image growing ever so slowly before our eyes; well, this formula requires some faith, I think.

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