By Charles Towne
She sat there engrossed in the puzzle.
She enjoyed puzzles, had for years. There had been so many, many puzzles. There had been puzzles of ships on turbulent seas and ships in serene harbors. Puzzles of children, of animals, of children and animals, of gardens and forests, puzzles of all sorts, shapes, and sizes.
One of her favorites was a large 1,000-piece puzzle made up entirely of tiny multicolored seashells. That one had taken nearly two months to finish. That was over three years ago, well before her eyesight started to go bad.
She had discovered years before that each puzzle, no matter how complicated, had a secret, a formula, that once discovered allowed it to practically assemble itself. She had come to believe that life itself was like a puzzle, each piece flowing into the next, and the next, making up many little pictures until they all blended into one.
“Yes, life is very much like a puzzle, finally realizing completion as a beautiful picture, and made up of many vignettes. Each facet, when viewed separately at times, seems almost insignificant, but when viewed as a whole they flow together as a lovely picture, a beautiful panorama.”
This thought she had shared with her doctor recently and he had agreed with her.
Throughout nearly 60 years of teaching, she had instilled in many of her pupils that analytical perspective of life and she had watched those pupils develop into men and women of honor and integrity.
Now in her twilight years, she expected that each of those hundreds of students were a part of her puzzle and she a part of theirs, each lending color and variety to the whole.
Not a bad thought when she considered it, not bad at all.
The puzzle spread out on the small table in front of her depicted an old lady in a long, pale blue dress, a lovely ivory cameo held at her delicate throat on a fine ribbon of royal blue. In the puzzle the old lady's hair was pinned up neatly, a few wisps of gray framing a face, which, though elderly, was yet lovely. It was a kind and gentle face, a face that seemed to glow, accentuating the tiny smile that played upon her lips.
That was the lady in the puzzle.
On a small table in front of the lady in the puzzle was a nearly finished puzzle and it, in receding size, was a mirror of itself, for it depicted an old lady in a faded blue dress assembling a puzzle of an old lady in a faded blue dress... and so on, and on, and on, into infinity, or perhaps an eternity
In each of the puzzles, the dignified old lady worked by the golden light of a candle which illuminated, not only the puzzle in front of her, but her face as well.
She picked up one of the few remaining pieces and pressed it into its place. Again she glanced at the fragments, brushing each of them softly with her fingertips. Then, selecting one, she rotated it, turning it this way and that. Making a decision, she laid the piece where it belonged and pressed it home with the ball of her thumb.
“There”, she thought to herself, “Nearly finished”. Leaning back she stretched, rubbing her eyes. "Yes, very nearly finished," she said in a whisper.
Pushing her chair back she stood and walked to the sink, turned on the cold water, and allowed it to run as she moved to the cupboard and selected a glass.
Back at the sink, she filled the glass from the running faucet and drank, really only sipping the water, not much more than wetting her lips. Her doctor had told her that she should drink more water. He had been concerned at her state of dehydration and her parchment-like skin.
"Please Ma'am, please drink more water or you are going to end up in the hospital."
He was genuinely concerned about her health. He was a good doctor who cared for each of his patients with dedication and gentleness as well as great knowledge and skill.
She smiled as she thought of him now. Little Tommy, oh what a rascal, and what a challenge he had been in elementary school. She had taught him for eight years, instilling values in the boy that were now part of the man.
Yes, little Tommy was now Dr. Tommy, her doctor. He was one of the strong, beautiful, colorful pieces of her puzzle. Taking another sip she poured the remainder of the water into the sink and then carefully placed the glass into the wire draining rack. Walking back to the table she looked at the puzzle and picked up another piece.
She had lived a long and good life, rich with memories. She had raised a son. He had lived well, raised a family, and as a testimony to his mother, had taught school for nearly 30 years. He had gone to his rest only a year ago, dying of the same heart disease that had taken his daddy nearly twenty years before.
They had certainly enjoyed the life they had spent together. Good years, happy years, good people, lots of puzzles. She smiled as she picked up the last piece. It was the face of the old woman in the puzzle, that tiny smile touching her mouth, eyes that seemed to sparkle in the glow of the candle.
"There, there you are, finished at last."
With that thought, she gently pressed the final piece into its place and sat there, one arm on the table, her gaze on the puzzle in front of her.
As she sat there her spirit seemed to soar as ever so slowly her head fell forward. And it was there that Dr. Tommy found her.
For the last two years, he had stopped by to see to her needs on the way to the clinic. She had gently chided him about him being the last doctor to make house calls, but she looked forward to his visits and he enjoyed just being near her.
At first, he thought she was sleeping, and he stood gazing in silence, not wishing to disturb her, for in the flickering light of the candle her face seemed almost to glow.
Dr. Tommy made all of the funeral arrangements, notifying those he knew would want to be there. They notified others who contacted others still, until several hundred of her former pupils had been told of her passing.
Yes, so many former students who were now mothers and fathers, teachers and doctors, ministers and priests. There were nurses and judges, two Supreme Court justices and several congressmen and senators. Every honorable profession was represented. So many people came that the viewing had to take place in the gymnasium of the school where she had taught for the last 27 years of her teaching career.
As each of her pupils passed by her casket in silent tribute, they were pleased by the hint of a smile upon her face. They all agreed with Dr. Tommy's decision to have her laid to rest in the clothing she wore when he found her, a long faded blue dress with a lovely ivory cameo held at her delicate throat on a fine ribbon of royal blue.
Charles Towne is first and foremost a Christian. An octogenarian, author, journalist, wildlife photographer, naturalist, caregiver, and survivor, his life has been and continues to be, a never-ending adventure filled with possibilities never imagined. He has adopted the philosophy that to Live fully, laugh uproariously, love passionately, and learn like there is no tomorrow, is a formula for a long and joy-filled life.