Puzzling Traditions

Like most families, we have tried over the years to develop our own holiday traditions.  These, like all things, evolve.  When I was a professor the semester break meant, after a flurry of grading, a month of a more relaxed schedule.  We would travel to family outside of Wisconsin every year, and worked on what a “usual” holiday might look like for our small family in the remaining time at home.  Now that I work for a company, and my wife works for a company, the holiday break is severely curtailed, but it has allowed us the opportunity to invent our own traditions.  One of them is to put together a quality jigsaw puzzle on Christmas Day.  (Two of these puzzles were destroyed in the flood that ruined so many books, and will need to be replaced eventually.)

I’m aware how nerdy puzzle-solving might sound.  I’m not spending the day out riding an ATV through the woods, discharging a firearm, or watching sports on television.  Piecing together a puzzle is a quieter pursuit, and the puzzles we have are of quality artworks, and completing one makes it feel like all is right with the world for a little while.  As with most things on this blog, it also serves as a metaphor.  Yesterday as we watched the movie The Man Who Invested Christmas (which portrays very well the life of those who try to write; the exception being that Dickens had little trouble finding publishers and the benefit of early success), it occurred to me that as we put together the puzzle of our lives, we do so with the box top missing.  We don’t know what the picture is.  Slowly some sections start to come together, but overall, we don’t know what we’re doing.

Long ago I learned the folly of planning out a life.  Moving forward is good, yes, and making plans wise.  You cannot, however, know the way those plans might fit elsewhere in this decades-long unfinished puzzle.  There’a a fairly large section of mine called Nashotah House.  I would never have planned that intentionally, and thinking back, it was being there that renewed my interest in horror.  I thought I’d be at a university where I might continue my research into ancient deities and how the world of biblical Israel developed its own conception of that world.  That’s what I thought the cover of the box would look like.  Instead I’ve found myself editing the books that others write and using the scant time left over to write my own, on a topic far different than that in which I earned an advanced degree.  As the last piece slips into the puzzle, I feel a sense of accomplishment.  I may not have done much, but I’ve used the limited time off to step back and try to take, however briefly, the larger view.

2 thoughts on “Puzzling Traditions

  1. Jeremiah Andrews

    Hello Steve,
    Having a plan is good. When i moved to Montreal many many years ago, I got a good piece of advice from my mentor at the university where I was studying. Like you, I needed a plan, and kind of wanted the whole picture right away. Well, that did not happen for sure. Getting sober at the same time was a challenge, because we always want to know the outcome with as little work as necessary, that also did not work in my favor.

    Coming from the U.S. to Canada was quite the culture shock and it took me almost two years to acclimate to Montreal and its quirks, people, language and traditions. Walking was the only way to go for me.

    So my mentor gave me a blank map, with a red dot on it, that said “you are here, right now.” I said, where is the rest of the map?, and he said, it’s there, you just need to start walking. I could only count on the day as it unfolded. And he added, to me, that if I did not know where I was or where i was going, he told me to sit down where I was and survey the surroundings. Get a feel for the territory and learn all the discernible information I could, while sitting. He then said, when I felt comfortable with what I had seen and was ready to walk, he said get up and walk. That method worked for me. Staying in ones day is very good sober advice for the beginner. Because it gives us the opportunity to shorten the view screen.

    I could not have planned how my life unfolded in the ensuing 17 years. And I could not have written a better story or script. the life that did pan out was beyond my imagination, looking back.

    Today, I know my capabilities and my liabilities. With that understanding I am better at walking than I am at planning. I trust God, and my fellows who have my back.

    Its not about the full picture of the puzzle from the get go. Because life unfolds, and gives us ONE puzzle piece at a time, and as we gather those pieces over time, then the picture appears. My puzzle is still in process, because life ends when you are dead. So keep collecting puzzle pieces because you don’t know how grand the final image is until we get to the end of our lives. Living without regret is key, so I want to make the best possible decisions and choices I can along the way. Sobriety has helped me do that over the last 17 years.



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