Thursday, April 5, 2012

crazy little puzzle pieces

We are in intercultural training for a month. This is my first writing assignment: a personal view of culture.

We all carry them around with us in all sorts of random places: in our pockets, our knapsacks, our purses, our cell phone holders, our suitcases, our cars, our cuffs; whatever we happen to be wearing or carrying is a potential receptacle for them. These scruffy jigsaw puzzle pieces are so much a part of our lives, we don’t even notice them anymore. I suspect it’s because we have pretty much forgotten the Original Intent: of putting the Puzzle together. We’re too busy going to work, raising families, meeting expectations, schooling kids (or wondering how to pay to school them). Occasionally we take out one of the pieces and look at it, turn it around, wonder how it fits in, then slip it back into the pocket.

When we were younger, of course, the excitement of getting the Puzzle complete had us much more focused on the pieces. We took them out, showed them to others, compared sizes, colors, designs. I can still remember how exciting it was to find someone who had a piece that matched one of mine. Yes, they all do come together eventually. We believed there was a grand Puzzle, and we were all carrying pieces throughout our lives.

Wherever you go, you encounter puzzle pieces. Everyone has them: rich or poor, educated or uneducated, northern or southern hemisphere, lazy or hard-working, everyone. As I have shown mine and seen others, I’ve noticed they are rich with color, symbols, partial clues as to the big picture. Chipped tiles, sleigh runners, palms, trade marks, pagoda roofs, oceans, crosswalks, rice paddies. I’ve seen so many bits and pieces, it gets overwhelming. Usually the pieces of people in the same localities are more likely to fit together. But I’ve found pieces of mine that fit in the most unlikely situations. It’s effort, but rewarding.

Ah, the feeling of a “connection” when pieces come together. In college, lots of us had connecting pieces and that gave us a feeling of the rightness of things and that it was inevitable that we would eventually find the others and “get it all together.” We were pretty idealistic in college and whether we went to the mission field or stayed home and did the “sending” thing, we gradually let go of putting pieces together. So much effort.

Many times pieces looked like they just had to go together. When they didn’t, it could be frustrating. I knew there were some people who wanted to change my pieces to fit, just snip a bit off here or there. Others tried to force the fit. The bulge was a little too big, but by ramming it, it would stay put. Then the pattern didn’t look right. Sometimes we figured the pieces were too different and speculated that they were parts of separate puzzles: there wasn’t One Grand Puzzle. That disturbed many of us who were convinced there was a Puzzle Maker who specifically designed the One Puzzle. These pieces that turned up in our living could not possibly all be random bits of cardboard without some intention behind them.

I love the process of finding those rare connections. When a piece I have fits with one someone else has, it’s euphoric. Then both pieces are ours, not just the one! Odd thing about those pieces, when they fit together, they multiply--no one loses. I have no idea how that works, but it does.

At various academic institutions I’ve attended over the years, I’ve listened to and watched many people analyzing the puzzle piece phenomenon. They try to explain the relationship we have with our pieces: how we feel our pieces are special and right. It bothers us when folks want us to change our pieces to fit theirs. We resent aspersions cast on our pieces because the pattern isn’t like anything they’ve seen or they stick out where someone would like them to go in. Many end up trying to find ways to force their puzzle pieces to fit others to give a sense of the Puzzle making progress. We all know how that’s going to end.

Over the years as I’ve thought about this Puzzle business, I’ve tried to get a handle on it. What does that big picture look like? Nobody knows because nobody has all the pieces. There is no cover of the box to look at. Some people try to speculate, but without an overall idea, we are pretty much flying blind. You very rarely find edge pieces, too. I’d say in all my looking at others’ pieces and comparing with mine, I’ve probably only seen half a dozen edge pieces. So we are trying to make connections without knowing the limits. Folks with edge pieces sense that they have something special, so they hang onto them for dear life. They can be pretty reluctant to let you try to fit yours into theirs.

I’ve noticed that there are many people out there who don’t get it. They come across the puzzle pieces in their pockets and hiding places. They look at them, stroke them, feel the edges. Then they put them away with a sigh. They don’t have a sense that there is something bigger going on. As a result, some of those pieces get pretty mangled and dirty with time. But I’m convinced they fit in somewhere. Each piece is a part of the whole, so it’s important, even if it’s a bit beat up.

I've heard a theory that by heading out and informing distant peoples about the significance of the pieces and how puzzles work, there will likely be an increase in fitting them together. There are difficulties, however, because some well-intentioned but uninformed folk end up simply telling folks with very odd pieces that their pieces are somehow faulty and need to be re-examined and brought up to certain standards. This provokes outcries from the Purist Puzzle Piece group, convinced that pieces are all equally viable in whatever condition we might find them. At this point, even those with great insight into piece shapes and designs are castigated as being guilty of the same insensitivity as those who are uninformed.

One of the sad things about these cool little pieces is how many people don’t give them any credence. They cannot be bothered with the in’s and out’s of the crannied cardboard. They are not fascinated by the colorations or texture of the finish. Long ago they gave up any hope of them being designed. They reckon the cardboard bits are random cut-offs from various factories that make things out of cardboard. Can you imagine? I want to ask how they think these pieces get into our pockets and fall between the cushions of our sofas. But they have already eliminated the Design idea.

I believe there is a Designer so artistic that we cannot begin to comprehend His Puzzle.

I believe He sees the whole, He knows where every little piece is and He is responsible each one. I believe that the pieces which have been disfigured with handling and the grime of cow dung floors, pieces which have been lost in the cracks of mundane suburban living will be restored one day. And when He has brought us all with our pieces and we see them fit into the whole, we will see something more breath-taking than we could ever have imagined. And we will know it was a burden and a privilege to be entrusted with these little puzzle pieces in this life.


Jarm Del Boccio said...

This is brilliant, true in life! When I was younger, it seemed I was looking at the back of the puzzle. No design, just a blank surface. Now, in my middle years, I see each piece slowing taking shape, and fitting into the puzzle of my life. Ever so slowly the design is being revealed by the Master puzzle maker. I just need to be patient, and realize that each piece He hands me will fit beautifully if I trust Him.
You are a gem, Karen...missing you!

Jarm Del Boccio said...

P.S. I love the like the cat. Are they yours??

Beckye said...

Beautiful, Karen! This is wonderful! Lovely.