A rare oxymoron happened the other night: I watched a moving TV special (“moving TV special” being the oxymoron).
It was the “Celebration of Hope” produced by Christopher Reeve to highlight the progress being made in research on spinal cord injuries.
Reeve believes he will be able to stand by his 50th birthday, some four years away. A 20-year-old hockey player paralyzed 11 seconds into his first college hockey game believes he will walk again, too.
They are only two of the thousands of people who suddenly found their lives broken into pieces by body-paralyzing accidents. They are only two of those who not only have searched for those broken pieces but are finding new ways to shape and place those pieces into new lives.
I, for one, find their courage astounding and their spiritual strength humbling.
Now please follow me as I jump to what seems like another subject, though it really isn’t.
In the common living room of the residential care home where I now work is a round table. On that table you usually can find a jigsaw puzzle in progress.
I’ve seen individuals work on it. I’ve seen folks work on it together.
I’ve tried putting pieces in the puzzle, too, although puzzles are a real frustration for me.
Eventually someone completes it, and we look on it for a time with satisfaction. But soon there’s another puzzle to put together.
There seems to be only one unspoken rule about the puzzle table: You have to leave all the pieces on the table, so the puzzle is all there, even if it isn’t all put together. Does that sound too obvious?
We all know what will happen if someone sneaks even one piece away. The puzzle will never be complete, even if every piece but one has found its proper place.
When I put jigsaw puzzle pieces alongside the challenge of spinal-cord injury victims looking to put their lives together, I see another metaphor for everyday spirituality.
Have you ever considered how we too easily make our lives into jigsaw puzzles that have missing pieces?
Too often we mentally fragment our lives by thinking, for instance, our “work piece” has no connection to our “family piece” or our “recreation piece.” Or we keep our “happy pieces” disconnected from our “angry pieces.”
There are thousands of ways we keep our lives in pieces.
When that happens, we easily can let one of those pieces be mislaid or even stolen out from under our noses. If that happens, we look for another piece to take its place.
Where we look is in another part of our lives that seems more together. We hope there’s an extra piece lying around there.
I have a theory.
It makes some sense to me that we intuitively resist dividing ourselves into a kazillion parts even at the same time we get swept up into the piece-making frenzy our daily world demands. But our frustration with that paradox eggs us on to further division.
We lose focus and can only see our lives “in pieces.”
The recent national popularity in searching for spiritual integrity is part of this frenzy. We have become such a fragmented people that we yearn for some way to keep all the puzzle pieces on the table while we each work at putting a few pieces together each day.
I believe we have a great deal to learn from people whose lives have been broken apart by spinal cord injuries or cancer or personal tragedy of any kind. You most likely know someone who is picking up the pieces of his life with a renewed focus on those daily tasks and soul issues that ultimately matter the most.
Life’s meaning has come into clearer focus for them and, as a result, they have found where many more puzzle pieces fit together. No doubt some pieces are still missing, but the puzzle’s picture is becoming easier to identify and embrace as their own life puzzle.
A close friend usually ends his e-mail letters to me this way: “Peace where you can find it.”
We both know that whether the word is “peace” or “shalom” (Hebrew) or “salaam” (Arabic), the word points to the biblical vision of wholeness, completeness.
We wish for others the wholeness of life, a completed life.
Today I paraphrase my friend’s closing wish this way: “Pieces where you can find them.”
Shalom/salaam is a lifelong search. But it isn’t a solitary search.
I easily understand God standing by our side at the puzzle table, gently suggesting, “Maybe that piece over there will fit right here.”
How many life-pieces put together make a peace for you?
On a brief, personal note, today’s column signals the beginning of my third year as a religion columnist for The Spokesman-Review.
When I began this venture, I honestly didn’t know if I would be welcomed for even two months, let alone two years.
But the readers’ response has been so amazing and stimulating to me. Your comments, regardless of whether you agree or disagree with me, humble me and stimulate me to search even more passionately for the gems of life-truth God has awaiting each of us.
Thank you for joining me on my journey and for allowing me to accompany you on your journey!