Whenever I recall a friend telling me, years ago, that he was recently hiking in a forest and soon found himself, as he said, ‘in the middle of nowhere’, it reminds me of a somewhat strange hope I always have when I start reading a work of fiction. As surprising as it may sound, I hope I will feel sort of startled and dumbfounded by what I am reading, even somewhat lost inside the pages. Delycia and I are currently reading Moby Dick for our book club, and whenever I feel like I’m ‘in the middle of nowhere’ (which is quite often in this book!), I say good for me, for then I might have the stirring experience of finding my way to ‘somewhere’. I often forget that in order to experience illumination I have to first experience darkness, and that the contentment of new knowledge can only come after the discontent of confusion. If I’m never ‘in the middle of nowhere’ when I’m reading a story, never utterly puzzled by the words I’m reading, how can I ever feel the thrill of stumbling upon the story’s true meaning?

These days I am often totally puzzled by this jigsaw puzzle I am trying to decipher.

Sometimes I feel as lost in this puzzle as I often do when reading Melville’s abstruse sentences and paragraphs. Staring at all the unsettled pieces still without a home in the puzzle, I sometimes sigh with a sense of hopelessness, but it’s often right then that a single piece somehow shines like a signal for me, and I set in its special place, and smile, knowing that even the strangest puzzle – on a puzzle table, in the pages of a book, or in life itself – will always come together – often in beautiful ways – for a patient and persevering person.

SNOW, FLAMES, AND A PUZZLE (written on January 21, 2014)

Outside, a billion big snowflakes are floating down on our neighborhood, while inside our snug house, the flames of an inviting fire are fluttering and leaping in the fireplace. There’s a similar and lovely randomness in both – the snow sailing here and there and wherever, and the fire doing its dance in a thousand ways. There’s also a jigsaw puzzle on the table not far from the fire, and lately the pieces have seemed as haphazard as the flames and the snowflakes. I know, though, that they’ll all eventually fit together, just as the flames will eventually settle together into one smooth pile of ashes, and just as the snow, by sunrise, will be spread across the streets and yards in a single dazzling sheet.

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