Tag Archives: Community

Courage at Twilight: Puzzles (Episode #365)

The city I have worked in for 30 years and lived in for 25 years just celebrated the 170th anniversary of its 1853 incorporation. And it did so with a puzzle, or rather, a painting, made into a puzzle, six thousand puzzles actually.  My boss, the mayor (the fifth mayor I have worked for), commissioned a popular local artist to compose a folk painting of the city—Tooele City—and its history, landmarks, geography, and people.  The painting’s “reveal” took place at a community birthday party.  Six hundred people came.  Dowdle, the painter and puzzle-maker, finds in puzzles a metaphor for cohesive community.  When assembling a 500-piece puzzle, people immediately notice even one missing piece, especially one missing piece, and that one piece is missed by all the other 499 pieces.  Until all 500 pieces are found and fitted together, the picture is not whole.  In a similar way, every member of a community is important, whether an edge piece, a piece splashed with bright color, or a non-descript background piece.  Each one is key to the complete whole.  He wept suddenly at the mention of a 14-year-old who fell through the ice and drowned at the local reservoir, the reservoir in the painting, despite heroic first responders’ efforts, and how sorely that single person in the community puzzle is missed.  As the celebration ended, my granddaughter Lila (3) waived her tiny American flag, and we ate red velvet and buttercream birthday cake, and I bought Dowdle puzzles, puzzles depicting our unique community.  Mom and Dad wanted to hear all about the anniversary celebration, and I presented to her the Tooele City puzzle, in a box, a box we opened, a box filled with 500 pieces we spread on the card table, pieces we began to fit together.  I can work at puzzles for short periods only.  Long stretches make me tired and cranky and tax my eyes and my patience.  “I need to be done, Mom.” I complained.  “We’ll finish it tomorrow, okay?”  Arriving home from work the next day, I saw Dad’s wheelchair in the garage, and I uttered a silent “uh oh” and walked through the doorway into the house.  “Do you want to hear about our day’s misadventures?” Mom asked with a wry chuckle.  Mom had decided it was a good day for a hamburger, fries, and a coke, and she decided to ask Dad if he wanted to come along, and he decided to come along.  My 83-year-old mother brought him the wheelchair and helped him transfer in, then pushed him over the door frame hump, down the short ramp, and down the long ramp.  I have been amazed at the heavy pull of gravity on an occupied wheelchair from a height of only one foot, and the strength needed to counter that force and keep the wheelchair and its occupant from running wildly away.  Today the chair pulled hard at Mom, and she shuffled quickly down the long ramp to avoid being pulled over and dragged behind Dad and his chair before it would tumble into the pine shrubs.  “I told myself to just hang on!” she recounted.  Then came the ordeal of getting Dad into the Mighty V8, the faithful Suburban he can no longer drive, and later out of the said Mighty V8 and up the stairs into the house (she could not push him up the ramps).  The outing could have gone terribly wrong for them both.  But the outing did not go terribly wrong, and Dad enjoyed the drive, looking fondly at the wispy clouds and the blue sky and his beloved white-capped Wasatch mountains.  After dinner, Mom and I finished the puzzle, not just any pastoral or puppy puzzle, but the puzzle depicting the community where I have lived and worked for three decades, where we birthed and reared our children, where my marriage thrived and wilted and died, where I fought 30 years of battles giant and small to safeguard the public interest, to protect the taxpayer, to improve quality of life, and to repulse the greed and entitlement of developers and others who blame my town for their problems.  I wondered if the puzzle box had included all 500 pieces, or if any pieces had slipped off the table and under the couch.  To my relief and delight, the complete image came together, whole, with every piece present and contributing to the picture.

(Pictured above: Mom and my son and daughter-in-law working on Dowdle’s Best in Utah puzzle.)

Getting ready for the celebration: 400 chairs.


Artist Eric Dowdle and the giant show puzzle of Tooele City.


My boss, Mayor Winn, and the original Dowdle painting of Tooele City.


The City Council (my other five elected “bosses”) and the Mayor, with the artist.


The Dowdle “Best in Utah” puzzle: making progress.


The completed 500-piece “Best in Utah” puzzle.

Courage at Twilight: The Gaping Jaws of Hell (or That Damned Window Well): Act 3

I had served Mom and Dad their plates of chicken strips sauteed with red bell pepper and onion, and their bowls of refried and black beans, cumin-taco seasoned, with cucumber slices and crenshaw cubes on the side, and was preparing my own dinner plate, when Mom shrieked, “Roger!  Terry just fell into the window well!  One moment he was standing there, and the next he was gone!”  Spurred by the memory of Window Well Horrors Act 1 and Act 2, I spurred out the back door in my red socks, wrapped in my baking apron, to where Terry’s head poked up from the window well, blood streaming into his eye and down his face from a head gash.  Hooking an arm under his, I heaved while he stepped up the ladder (thank goodness there was a ladder), his legs trembling, his face ash gray, and sat him in a chair, triaging: How do you feel? (fine) Where do you hurt? (my chest) Are you dizzy? (no) Can you walk? (I think so).  With him stable, I barged into his house to blurt the situation to his wife, grab wet towels, and shove ice cubes into a grocery bag.  First on his head went the wet towel, second the bag of ice.  Then I begged his patience as I wiped blood from his eye, nose, mouth, cheeks, chin, and neck, and removed his blood smeared glasses.  “How are you feeling now?” I asked for the second of a dozen times.  “Stupid!” he spat.  Like with Gabe and Dad, a perfectly placed step on the window well cover had cause Terry’s to flip from its seat and drop him into the deep hole, gashing his scalp as he fell.  And the blood had flowed.  Off Pat rushed him to the hospital, emerging four hours later with stitches and a bandage and Percocet for the pain of his upper body being suddenly spread and stretched by his arms hitting the well on the way down.  But no broken bones or torn muscles or ligaments.  “How are you feeling now?” I asked at midnight.  “Sore,” he signed.  “And stupid!”  A loaf of chocolate chip banana bread the day after, and fresh corn on the cob from Dad the next, and we had become “the best neighbors ever.”  Neighborliness aside, had Mom not glanced out her window at precisely the moment Terry fell into the well, no one would have known, perhaps for a long time, and the list of possible horribles is too long.  But Mom did look out her window at that precise moment, and Mom did see him fall, and Mom did send me bolting with a scream, and I was there when I was needed.  And Terry (82) is alright, asleep, Percocet prone in his recliner.  He is safe.  In one short year, window wells at our two houses have gobbled up three people.  If we were a statistical cohort, the country would be in a serious window well epidemic.  At some point in the late night, I realized I had been privileged to enact the rescue in all three scenes, and with my presence being the common denominator, I hereby decree that, from henceforth, stepping by any person on a window well cover of any type, shape, or material, for any reason, is hereinafter strictly prohibited.

Courage at Twilight: Crêpes Frangipane

They did not know what to say, so they said nothing, and I suffered alone.  When I separated and divorced almost seven years ago, not one neighbor, not one congregation member, not one ministerial leader approached me with friendship or compassion or support.  They did not know what to say, apparently, so they stayed away and said nothing at all, and I anguished utterly alone.  (Thank God, Mom and Dad and Sarah and Jeanette and Carl and Paul and Megan and Don and Carolyn and Steven—parents, siblings, and three friends—they loved me through.)  I think that “I don’t know what to say” is a hideous excuse for pretending not to see, and for withdrawing and withholding, and for saying nothing.  I reject it.  How easy it would have been for anyone to say, “I am so sorry!” or “What can I do to support you?” or “You will get through this, and I want to be there with you as you do.”  I reject it: actually, we do know what to say, but we are reluctant to feel another’s pain, afraid to do the emotional work of empathy.  Just: say anything kind.  That ought to be easy.  When our neighbor’s infant grandson died in his crib in their house this week, constricted by a blanket laid there to warm and comfort the baby boy, dozens of men and women rushed to the house and kept coming every day for weeks, with meals, with hugs, with encouragement, with loving silence, with tears, and with other assurances of love and hope.  I did not know what to say, and I did not go, right away.  But I had rejected that justification, and I had determined never to stay away for the lack of the right words.  Instead of words, I took over a plate of hot crêpes stuffed with chocolate almond frangipane (French pudding) and handed the goodie plate over with a smile and said the words “You might want to use a fork—they are a bit messy” and “This is an authentic French dessert” and “I don’t know what words to say” and “So many people love you and care for you and mourn with you and have hope for your healing and happiness.”  And he embraced me and said, “Thank you.  I can’t wait to give them a try.”  After church today, a group of women surrounded the grieving grandmother and talked and cried and hugged and counseled—they loved.  Dad observed to me, “That is more than just a group of women talking.  Christ is there with them, healing.”  And I knew Dad spoke truth.