Just an update – I know I have talked before about jigsaw puzzles, but I do need to announce that Cheri and I may very well be on track to put together the largest number of jigsaw puzzles (in the category of 500 or 1000 piece) built this year. Well, let me settle down the profound talk a little bit… I think we have probably put together more jigsaw puzzles this year than WE have ever put together. That may not be quite as world-shaking as was hinted in the first sentence, but it’s still a bunch of puzzles. Our closet is quickly getting filled with the finished products. As well, we have a stack of about seven or eight unopened, including some that will be reserved for Christmas. We finished the one with all the crayons this weekend, and started the pretty one that has a view of Central Park.
Most of our puzzles come from Springbok Puzzles of Kansas City, MO. Now, we have tried others, but most of them has “loose” pieces. That is, Cheri and I follow the technique of building a portion of the large puzzle directly in front of each of us, and then when it appears we have a large chunk (I think that is an official term in the jigsaw puzzle world), we will move it inside the border that we built when we first sorted the pieces, trying to find the flat edge pieces. If you have a puzzle with loose pieces, and you try to follow our technique, as soon as you lift the chunk to move it over the edge, it falls apart. You have to either put a card under the chunk, or worse yet, break the border and shove the chunk through the opening. I don’t want to get too technical here – it’s not that kind of column – but I can tell you we have had some hair-raising experiences as we have attempted chunk transportation. Springbok is know for making puzzles that are thick enough and hold together tightly enough to move without incident. Yes, you could call that an unpaid endorsement, but if the folks at Springbok want to pony up with a little thank-you gift, I wouldn’t object. I mean, we have bought a LOT of puzzles from them.
One thing that has happened, however, is that Springbok has offered, if you spend a certain amount of money, is that they will send you a “mystery” puzzle at no charge! How fun, you say – they are going to send me a puzzle I hadn’t picked out, and won’t discover until I open the box. Perhaps it’s unique or old, or especially beautiful – it will be fun to discover it nestled among the other puzzles that we did select. Perhaps you thought that, or even said that.
You would then join us in being totally wrong. When they say “mystery,” they do not mean a puzzle that is only known when we open the shipping carton. No. They mean that on top of the three or four puzzles you ordered from them, they throw a sealed plastic bag with either 500 or 1000 pieces in it. The mystery is that you have no idea what the stupid puzzle looks like – the theme, the setting, the picture – nothing. All you have are pieces that have no logical or practical order to them, and no way to find out until you try to start putting it together.
We received our mystery puzzle in our last shipment from the good folks at Springbok. I can almost hear their cackling and laughing as they tossed the bag of pieces in the box. “That’ll teach those upstarts in the Cross family, to think they have any real skill in putting together our puzzles!” When we got the bag, we tossed it in the corner of the office with all other yet-to-be assembled puzzles. However, my timing in ordering puzzles was a bit off, and we found that the only puzzle we had in the pile at one point was indeed our mystery bag. “How hard could this be?” we said as we tried to convince each other in a naïve, innocent manner.
Let me say that when someone offers you a “free” gift, you should always be suspicious. First of all, in my language training, I have yet to find a gift that is NOT free. A gift by its nature is something that is given, not purchased. You can say, “This item comes to you as no extra charge,” but the fact is, if you don’t buy something first – like other puzzles – you aren’t going to get the “free gift.” So, start being more precise in your offers, folks! Also, it’s become part of my belief system that anything given to me on top of what I have purchased is not going to be worth more than what I have paid for. The old saying, “to boot” as in “and he threw in the car polishing rag to boot,” originally was from the Old English “bat” which meant something useful or something additional. Someone tosses in something to boot to try to seal a deal, by offering something not expected or even asked for.
That’s what a mystery puzzle is, until you get one, and open it up, and try to put it together. Our puzzle building usually happens on weekends, so we began the mystery on a Friday.
We pretty well figured out the theme when we saw about 1000 tiny pictures of dogs – mostly bulldogs – and some cats, all in poses, with many of them wearing hats, or sitting in odd things, like watermelons or surfboards or the like. Just a hint: when you are putting together a mystery, you have to start with only colors, since you have no idea really what you are assembling. You also have no idea what is on your right, or left or above or below, because you have no picture to give you perspective.
We started slow. And continued slow, although eventually we were able to put even a few different pictures together. Then, somehow, my shrewd and inventive partner went online, and typed in something like, “Jigsaw puzzle with dogs and cats” and up popped a number of picture of said puzzles – including the one that had the same sort of framed border and lots of little pictures, and she ran off a copy, which gave us at least a fighting chance to put it together.
It was a long weekend, because even with the picture, it was so small you couldn’t make out detail, and it was a picture of the finished puzzle and so it was full of ridges and such where the pieces came together. Frankly, it gave me a pretty good headache.
We did finally get the thing mostly put together. I will confess that we punted putting the blue border with bones all over it around the main part of the puzzle. That would have required just having to fit piece by piece in shape, and not in color, and by that time we were ready to almost call it quits. So, we marked the 90% completed mystery as a victory, and busted it back up again, and deposited it in a two-gallon Ziploc bag for future torture.
Then it was that sin crept in. Cheri decided to give the puzzle to her sister. Without the picture. And making sure the pieces were completely separated. We aren’t proud of that action… we actually we kind of are pretty pleased with ourselves, because we know two things will happen – one, it will be just as hard for them to put together as it was for us; and two, Cheri’s sister is incapable of just giving up and letting the thing go. There is something delicious about offering that kind of gift to your siblings…
So, a word about mysteries. First, as you take on a mystery, you have to be satisfied that there is no plan, no picture, no “what’s next.” You have to realize that there will be far more questions than clues, and far more frustrations, especially at the beginning, until your “eyes” get accustomed to the dark. You will try an enormous number of pieces in the beginning, trying to get something to fit together. And you will more often than not fail in that work.
To find your way through a mystery, whether that’s a jigsaw puzzle, or trying to find the truth about something in your life that seems foggy or ill-defined, you must make use of some important tools. First, you have to have patience. Walking through murky, unknown places cannot be as part of a footrace. Coming to understand something means taking the time for it to be revealed, or at least partially seen. Second, you have to have perseverance. If you are just going to quit halfway in, then don’t start. Some mysteries will not tolerate only being partially solved. Third, depending on the type of mystery you are up against, it may take a good deal of adaptive courage – the willingness to be flexible, to try something that might fail, to change when the change is needed and to even take a turn, and move in a different direction if that will help move things forward.
Of course, the most important thing about solving a mystery is to decide that you want to do so in the first place. If you are looking at that bag of puzzle pieces in your life, and you are shaking your head over the prospect of dumping them out on the table, then don’t do it – you just make a mess that someone will have to clean up. Only intentionally mess up your life if you have the bearing and the belief that the mess will bring forth something far better than what exists now.
All of us are on journeys in our lives. When we pause for a moment and ask the question, “Why?” it will lead us on paths we might not have chosen. As I have said before, “why” is the last question answered, but it may need to be the first one asked. Our search for meaning in our lives and in our future and our past means that “why” when asked intentionally and thoughtfully, and responsibly, may be the best and most important mystery you might ever solve. Just don’t leave love behind. That is perhaps our greatest tool, because it allows us to imagine, and to forgive and to find serenity when nothing else can be found.
Word for the day: A four for one set: flotsam, jetsam, lagan, and derelict. All having emphasis on the first syllable. These are long-used legal terms for shipwrecks of sorts. What’s fun is finding how each one differs from the other. “Flotsam” is the term used to describe something that falls overboard from a ship. From the French flota, it means “to float.” Flotsam is an accidental loss, like a barrel of rum rolling off the main deck. “Jetsam” and “lagan” are two words that start out the same, but deviate from each other. Both of them are different from flotsam, in that they are things intentionally thrown overboard, not accidentally lost. “Jetsam” comes from the Old French getaison, which of course you know as “a throwing.” We get the word “jettison” and it is the simple object being tossed. In the Old Testament story, Jonah is “jetsam,” intentionally tossed to quell the storm. “Lagan” is also something tossed over intentionally, but the word arises out of the Latin phrase lagamaris, or “law of the sea.” When a ship risked being swamped or was too heavy, lagan would be thrown, but the difference was that it would have been tied to a buoy, so it could be recovered later – hence, the law. So, instead of your barrel of rum accidentally rolling off the ship, you might throw one over, and attach a float to it, in order to retrieve it later. If someone else were to do so, they would have to return it, or be arrested as a scavenger thief.
That leaves us with “derelict.” We hear of someone being charged with “dereliction of duty,” or we call someone a “derelict,” who just lives on the street, but the word is nautical. It comes from the Latin derelictus, but also de-re-linquere, which means “to leave back from.” The combined word means “solitary” or “deserted.” After an incident when things either fell overboard or were tossed over, if you were to go scuba diving, and were to find items on the ocean floor, without a buoy, they would be “derelict,” and good for the taking, since they in all sense had been deserted, left behind from the ship.
If you are going to be thrown overboard, make sure they understand the difference between lagan and derelict.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.