When I was quite young I had a puzzle of Bert and Ernie that I really liked. It was a young child’s puzzle with only a few thick cardboard pieces and often my mother would help me put it together. If I would get stumped with what piece went where, she would instruct me to pick up a piece, try it in a certain spot, and “keep turning it ’til it fits”.
Somehow that expression made it into our familial language, and I still think of it frequently, much more often than I think of that flimsy puzzle that has surely outlived its usefulness just as surely as it still lives in the corner of the basement my mother reserves for memories.
I wonder if our lives are puzzles, and we spend most of our lives trying to get the pieces to fit. Few of us live in a constant state of disshevelment, but most of us know the feeling of playing whack-a-mole with our lives: when we finally get one thing in order, another pops up.
So we keep trying to fit our pieces in together. As soon as we find the right place for prudence, prayer becomes displaced. Then we get charity just as it ought to be and the jigsawed edges of chastity protrude from what should be the puzzles’ smooth edge. There’s a part of each of us that knows what the puzzle is supposed to look like and isn’t satisfied until it is just so. A part of us knows that holy = whole.
It has been suggested to me before that since I work in ministry I ‘teach virtue’. That could not be farther from the truth. Teaching virtue is impossible: virtue lies in all of us, and at best I walk with people as they uncover it. But finding our virtue is not so much a clearing away the clutter but turning traits the right way, making foul tempers into zealousness, shyness into contemplative patience, mouths inclined to harmful chatter into those that blabber the goodness of God.
I doubt the work of our turning ever stops. Is an outcome of original sin that we are never put together quite right this side of eternity? If in my minds eye I can see what the puzzle should look like – or even if I can’t – I can keep feeling my way to its completion. No discouragement or apparent failure can stop me plowing forward, piece by piece, if I just keep turning it ’til it fits.