Monday, June 06, 2011


People are fond of referring to life as a puzzle. I do it frequently myself. My mind, seemingly wired to think in analogies, zeroed in on that one this morning, and I reached the conclusion that each of us is like a single piece in the gigantic jigsaw puzzle of life. The problem is, we can’t see the whole picture, or where we fit in it. I visualize myself as being somewhere in the upper right-hand corner, probably a piece of the sky with maybe just the tiniest hint of…something…along the bottom. I’m not vain enough to think I’m a corner piece, and I know I’m not a part of the border--some part of me would have to be straight for that. So since I’ve always thought of myself as not really being part of the main picture, I’m content to hover above it all by just being a part of the sky. Though I do wish I knew what that tiny element of…something…was.

While I have no idea what the picture is—an Edward Hopper would be nice—it is undoubtedly not a simple one. A Van Gogh, maybe, or a Winslow Homer, or a Bruegel, or a Bosch. My primary concern is that it made some sort of sense, but my somewhat cynical side says it is more likely a Jason Pollock, or one of those maddening stacks of pencils.

The more I think about the analogy of everyone being a piece in the jigsaw puzzle of life, the more I like it. Every one of us is, after all, different from everyone else: different size, different shape, different color, and each has our own unique place in the puzzle. For those people—probably the majority—who naturally feel part of some larger group—circles of friends and family and organizations, and nationalities and ethnicities—the concept of being a piece of a much larger puzzle probably does not resonate as loudly as it might with the disenfranchised. For those who feel alone, isolated, unwanted, and disconnected from the rest of humanity to realize that they are each a piece of a gigantic puzzle which would not be complete without them might bring them some comfort. It’s not so important for us to know exactly where in the puzzle we fit, or what our individual piece represents, as it is to realize that we do have meaning and purpose, even though we might not know specifically what it is.

Our ability to question—to wonder what the picture is on the box in which all the puzzle’s pieces come—is one of the primary advantages over all other creatures on this planet, yet our ability to ask far outdistances our ability to find answers.

While I am a confirmed Agnostic, I do have to admit that logic dictates that this giant puzzle didn’t just evolve out of nowhere, and that a certain perverse sense of humor is involved in presenting Mankind with so very many questions and so very few answers. Being part of a picture we cannot see is one of these little perversities.

But in the end, our desire to know the answers to the puzzle of life is rather similar to the situation of a dog chasing a car: what would he do if he caught it?

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