A small hand held the thin puzzle piece in midair for a few moments, then struck.
“Looka,” Missy said, motioning for my attention and pointing. She had indeed put together two more pieces of the Mickey and Minnie Mouse jigsaw puzzle – but with Minnie’s shoe pressed into Mickey’s body.
“Not bad,” I told her with a smile, scanning the landscape and the remaining bits. I found a fresh piece to one side, began a swap. “But what about this?”
Missy’s face brightened into a wide smile. “Yeah!”
My wife’s developmentally disabled aunt is a lady of many talents. When the mood strikes her, Missy will dance endlessly to a full-volume stereo. Or enthusiastically beat me at bowling. Or take a brush, some paints and a piece of construction paper and create one more art work for the family gallery. (The moment when I realized that a green streak and a blue one were actually two of our parakeets remains pretty exciting for me.)
But many times, in the middle of the living room, she’ll reach for one of the children’s puzzles nearby. By now, she knows many of the patterns well. But when she’s tired or frustrated – and while fighting a cold last week, she was definitely both – she’ll take shortcuts, hammering a piece where she wants it to go. Children’s puzzles being what they are, the piece will usually let her.
The result may be a pterodactyl’s wing on a tyrannosaur’s body. Or maybe a princess dress that moves jarringly from Sleeping Beauty blue to Ariel pink. Over the scene, Missy may look down in satisfaction or wrinkle her face as she realizes something isn’t quite right.
“I c’nt do it.”
“Sure you can, let’s take a look here.”
Even with help and patience, there’s always the temptation to go for the “easy” fit, to make the picture work. Even when it doesn’t.
In an alternate universe, Missy’s probably debating politics today.
If you’ve been on Facebook or any online forum – or even just a corner of a party at the wrong time – you know what I’m talking about. There’s always the one friend, who may be from either end of the political spectrum, who’s bound and determined to make their view of the world fit. Anything that supports the picture is latched on to unhesitatingly, anything critical is pushed aside, without hesitation and usually without verification.
At best, the result is approval from the choir and bit lips from everyone else. At worst, things can blow up into a heated argument, all the worse for everyone knowing deep down that they have the right of it and the other person’s just not listening.
And when it steps beyond social media, it can burn a lot more than just friendships.
A lot of national attention’s been given to the Jefferson County school board recently, where a proposed history curriculum would urge that “Materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.”
The stated motive, according to one board member, is to make sure kids become “good citizens” and not “little rebels.” But given how much of this county’s history has resulted from civil disorder or social strife, from the Boston Tea Party to the civil rights battles of the ‘50s and ‘60s, a number of students, teachers and watchers are insisting that pieces of the puzzle are being lost or left out.
“I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical,” wrote another Jefferson — Thomas, in this case.
The picture just doesn’t fit.
Jigsaw jams can be repaired. It sometimes requires an outside eye, it often requires patience. But the one thing it always requires is the willingness to dismantle the old picture first.
That’s not easy for any of us to do. (Myself included) It’s always easier to believe assumptions and react from reflex, much harder to entertain the thought that we might be wrong. Paul Simon once wrote that “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”
It’s fun. It’ll finish the puzzle. But it won’t really complete it. That’s the goal, or it should be.
She knows what it’s like to finally get the picture.