Despite the all necessary extra care that has to be taken these days in so many areas of life when dealing with the ‘unknowns’ thrown at us, I still cannot resist the temptation to bend down and pick up the seemingly random item from the pavement or gutter that catches my eye. Usually it is a discarded coin, sometimes an item that looks like a coin but turns out not to be, so I then have to carry it to the nearest dustbin ! Thank goodness for the hand-sanitiser which lurks in every pocket I dip my hand into. Being of a generation that can recall the purchasing power of a ha’penny in a sweetshop, I still see value in a penny. Alas, that power may not be what it used to be, but as well as being discarded by some as they fall from pockets with an attitude that they aren’t worth expending the energy it takes to retrieve them, these small copper-plated coins continue to make their way into our collection baskets. However it takes a lot of them to fill the required bag for them to become an acceptable, and also relatively heavy, bankable item. Weekly on a Sunday morning I gather and collect a varying amount of discarded rubbish from Bath Road, wondering as I do so where the youthful team of Spen Valley Greta Thunbergs are. Did I dream of youngsters taking days off our schools in Kirklees a couple of years ago to protest about adult-neglect of an environment we all share! Certainly when I do see people litter-picking they tend to be of mature years. Perhaps the link between the localised picture and global issues is lost in translation. Having a Dad who has always been able to see a further use for the discarded item, perhaps my tendency is hereditary. Our extended garage at Otley is the gallery in which he houses a life-time’s habit of waiting for the moment when the retrieved item will come in useful. Thus far it is an area of our home that has not fallen under the spell of my sorting and tidying skills. Earlier work done in the pantry and greenhouse would barely equate to a shelf in this Aladdin’s Cave as I’ve heard it referred to on occasion. Not my words! My vocabulary when discussing this space usually includes the word ‘skip’ at which Dad pales.
Last week I picked up a random item from the driveway. I have no idea of its origin, and shall not blame the birds, as a recently published report stated that for every one human being on the planet there are six birds. Being so out-numbered it is worth knowing who’s really in charge! The object that found its way into my hand, en route to the bin was a piece of a jigsaw. Turning it this way and that I couldn’t quite make out what the design was, nor guess at the larger picture it fitted into and was ultimately an integral part-player of. In my hands and eyes it was random and reduced in meaning, but in the context of the whole jigsaw it was vital, necessary, crucial and completed the picture of which it was just one single piece.
There is an element of being a piece of a jigsaw in all of us. Like many, at the end of each day, I offer the Lord an overview of the experiences of the waking hours that I recall. Sometimes I present a lengthy list of negatives for which I seek forgiveness and pardon, and maybe the future opportunity to redress, or bring back into balance, that which I may have upset or taken away from its normal harmony by the sharp word, neglectful deed, or simply poor attitude. On such days I sincerely hope that those who encounter that piece of the jigsaw of myself, will understand that there are a lot more pieces – maybe not visible or apparent in that single encounter – which when put together and taken as a whole, form a much more pleasant and likeable total experience than that dealt out in the tangible expression of a single word, deed, or moment of bad attitude.
Reassuringly there are many more reflective times, when on contemplation of a day drawing to its close, my heart is filled with gratitude to God for all the positives to which I have, thanks to Their gifts working through me, been able to contribute a tiny speck of betterment or enhancement to those whose lives I’ve been privileged to encounter. For all of us, I am convinced that this list is far lengthier than the former viewed and clung to by regret and lamentation. Ultimately there are many jigsaw-like pieces and elements that contribute to the larger picture of our lives, in part seen by ourselves, by others, and in its totality by Those in whose image and likeness we are created. Some of these may appear to be more intrinsically linked to the whole than others, perhaps more bland – rather like sky in a landscape picture – but are equally necessary and whose contribution is one of a reliable presence devoid of which something would most definitely and noticeably be absent.
The jigsaw of childhood is formed of large pieces, all rather naively obvious and quickly slotted together to produce a simple image. Without a need for complication we are satisfied with the basics, including love, the attention of others, food, warmth, security, and another necessary piece is one which is constantly changing shape, proportion and is the element of ourselves that is open to the learning of life that begins at home, the first classroom of experience. As teenagers we discover that there are many more pieces to the jigsaw of who we are than we first saw on the box-lid of childhood. Some pieces are simply accepted as a given, others rebelled against, and in the demand of the instant-fix pieces can be forcefully put into places not rightly theirs, meaning that others are adrift and out of place. The enthusiasm, sense of pushing boundaries and simple youthful determination to explore new frontiers can make the promise held by a thousand pieces so appealing, luring and tempting. Reality can take the jigsaw in many directions, not least into the safe hands of those experienced enough to guide and direct through assistance; see it become a pile of individual pieces smashed in frustration with even those that had been so tentatively and appropriately connected broken apart; not to mention the incomplete picture walked away from when the bland and uninteresting routine lacks sparkle or boredom strikes, bringing an army of seemingly relevant and meaningful distractions, which last no longer than a style of clothing or hair colour.
Relationships allow us to see beyond the few pieces that we hold in our own hands. Others are attracted by what we ourselves take for granted, and even begin to nudge us in the direction of seeing more elements of the larger view than had ever been obvious on our solo journey. In trust we begin to share pieces of our lives, and develop a confidence allowing us to hand some of them over to the safe keeping of those who will ultimately become significant features of our jigsaw story. Parents, carers, grandparents across the generations with a largely completed jigsaw of their own offer willing and patient hands to assist with the pieces of new and evolving lives. Looking at their own jigsaw, more time than ever before is given to contemplating the swathes of similar appearing pieces, reflecting long years of recurring events not least amongst them work, each individual shape holding recollections of a certain environment and those who populated it. The blue of sky or sea evoking memories of favourite destinations, a sameness of location for holidays as a family, slightly more exotic and with tongue-twisting names as adventures were taken when the nest was empty, financial stability was attained or retirement came. With a freshness of vison pieces are viewed, the detail of one or more lost to the hasty youth, cherished by the mature eye that recalls the significance of the stepping stone to a new beginning, a chance meeting that led to a lifelong partnership, the slip, lapse or failure that brought continuity and the avoidance of disaster and annihilation. With age comes an understanding that whilst we handle many pieces of life’s jigsaw with the belief that they could belong or fit anywhere, their shape, characteristic, and definition mean that there is just one, single and unique space for them. That is where they actually fit and belong. It is where they are meant to be, planned out by Those greater than ourselves, but Who, thankfully never tire, get bored, lose patience or walk away from the wonderfully rich, diverse and imaginative dream that together They had for each of us, and collectively for humanity as a whole, in the playroom of creation which has a single word on its door – Love.
Not too far removed from those thoughts inspired by a jigsaw piece picked up randomly on a drive are the words of prose which, as the proud son of a retired weaver, mean a lot to me:
The Divine Weaver.
The human life is laid on a loom of time
To a pattern they do not see.
While the Weaver works and the shuttles fly
Till the end of eternity.
Some shuttles are filled with silver thread,
And some with threads of gold;
While often just the darker hue
Is all that they may hold.
But the Weaver watches with skilful eye
Each shuttle fly to and fro,
And sees the pattern so deftly wrought
As the loom works sure and slow.
God surely planned that pattern
Each thread – the dark and the fair –
Was chosen by His Master skill
And placed in the web with care.
He only knows the beauty
And guides the shuttles which hold
The threads so unattractive
As well as the threads of gold.
Not till the loom is silent,
And the shuttles cease to fly
Shall God unroll the pattern
And explain the reason why
The dark threads are as needful
In the Weavers skilful hand,
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He had planned.
Whatever the shape of the piece of your own jigsaw you are currently holding, or the colour or texture of the yarn flying to and fro on life’s loom, may you know it is there with purpose, and has a vital part to play in something far greater than itself.
With the reassurance of both prayerful and affectionate remembrance.