In this year and a half since Mom died, and we cleared out her house, all my siblings and I have remembered “things” from our childhood, and have asked each other, usually through texts, if any of us have seen, or has possession of “it.” We know where some of the items are – Lisa has the wooden hamburger press, and our deceased brother Ray absconded with the Royal Australian Air Force flag, given to Dad as he finished his assignment there. Other things have been a bit more mysterious, like different toys or our plastic blocks or such. Now, we can guess that some of the items went the way of all misfit toys, except instead of being banished to an island, they were more likely dropped into the big garbage can in the sky. Still, I would expect somebody somewhere has hung on to most everything from when we were little. Every one of us, it seems, is a pretty good saver (with a couple ending up in the hoarding category…).
So, it was no surprise when this week I received a text from a sister who was asking about the wood block puzzle that had pictures on all four sides of each block, that you could change to create a different face. There were ten blocks total, so there were hundreds of possibilities. You could change the eyebrows, the eyes, the nose, the cheeks, the mouth – the top of the head gave you options of a straw hat, a bowler hat, a bald head or a thick head of hair. No batteries needed, no electronics, nothing to boot or reboot. No pop-up ads. Just ten blocks that you could amuse yourself and the world with by making different silly faces.
Everyone chimed in, all remembering the puzzle, and different aspects about it. Then it was my turn. “That was my puzzle – I still have it” I wrote. And it was, and I do. Packed in one of my bins in the storage downstairs labeled “Randy’s Toys” is a box with all ten blocks, carefully preserved, and ready to play at a moment’s notice. Actually, when I got older, and would visit antique stores, I found other block puzzles – most of them from Germany – with again, the opportunity to create all sorts of scenes and characters. It’s now a nice little set of probably pre-60s children’s puzzles. And no – I’m not going to share them. Growing up in a family of seven children, toys got “shared” often, and often without the owners agreement or even knowledge, and often were returned worse for the wear. These aren’t taking a trip anywhere. Sorry, sisters. Not going to happen.
So – there’s my selfish moment. That’s not what I wanted to allude to today, however. Instead, I wanted to invite you to think about “changing your blocks.” It’s a matter of intentionality. Just as my block puzzle has 40 different sides spread over 10 blocks, and each of them can be mixed and matched with all the others, creating a huge variety of pictures – again, without batteries or charging – so it’s possible for each of us in our own lives to “change a block.” I’m well aware that in this CoVid time the idea of something new occurring is a rather faded and distant dream. Our normal, regular days for many of us have slid into a disappointing sameness. Most of us aren’t traveling or visiting fun places where we used to go and find new pictures, new experiences. Even grocery shopping or the rare filling up the tank with gas has lost its luster. Our meals have even slogged down to boring sameness, and who really goes out to restaurants? There’s nothing terribly wrong with what we are doing, but a danger lurks around the corner of what we AREN’T doing with our lives. Will 2020 be just a blur when all is said and done? We hope not.
So – again – maybe it’s time to change a block. Take that picture of your life right now and explore what it might mean to turn something over in your life, or create a new picture to look at – simply, find something new that may create a point of distinction in an otherwise indistinct life. Now, I’m not one to look at as an example, certainly – much of my life is horribly the same, day in and day out. With the onset of winter, even if we don’t have snow, and the temps are terrible, most of my life is lived inside the walls of our home. When we decide to go wild and take a drive, there’s no place to go that doesn’t require a mask or some other safety device.
Still, it’s worth intentionally thinking about something new. I started writing this daily column on June 30, and I’ve written over 430 pages so far – not all of it is Pulitzer Prize work, but it was a new thing. I have also, as I mentioned, started relearning Italian, for no good reason except it creates some new dents in my brain. We will see, after the holidays, what other new things I may take on, but I’m trying to change the blocks. I’m trying to find significance and distinction in the retired life.
I would hope and pray that you would do so as well. I also remember a mentor of mine frequently saying, “When someone says, ‘I don’t know,’ all they are doing is presenting intellectual laziness.” Harsh, but true. Don’t allow yourself to say, “I don’t know what to do!” Demand more of yourself. Change your block, change your story – change your life with intention and determination, even when the forces of boredom and sameness surround us for now. Just make the change.
Word for the Day: (actually, it’s a phrase) brutum fulmen. You might guess it’s Latin, since they are actual Latin words. Pronounced BROO-tum FULL-men, the words translated are “stupid” or “brutish” and “lightning. It’s a senseless thunderbolt. Pliny once wrote “hinc bruta fulmina et vana” which means “These senseless and ineffective thunderclaps.” So, what it means is to make an empty threat – or an action taken that has no effect. Sometimes a court ruling is seen as brutum fulmen, because it creates a bit of a stir, but it legally changes nothing. A lot of bluster, a lot of noise – lots of crashing and rumbling – but in the end, it’s a waste of time. Brutum fulmen is a great way to describe most politicians, and most big brothers as well.
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.