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.