Sunday, January 3, 2010

Puzzling in the New Year

A year ago, I was four days into a 10-day silent Vipassana retreat when the clock struck midnight Dec 31. This year I was sitting at the dining room table, four hours into a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle.

The puzzle had been given to Sandhill by Lindsey Jones (aka Miss Lindsey, or ML or short), an ex-member who gave us the puzzle in remembrance of Geoph Kozeny, a dear friend who died in 2007 of pancreatic cancer.

(I had last seen ML in February, when I stayed on the couch in her Berkeley apartment as I visited Bay Area friends for three days prior to doing some work for a community outside Santa Rosa. Although she had visited Sandhill this past Sept, I completely missed it because of ill timing: I had repeat work with the Santa Rosa client, and by the time I learned that ML would be visiting I had scheduled to arrive in the Bay Area the same day she departed for Missouri. Worse, I didn't get back to Sandhill until the day after she departed. Oh well, some things are not meant to be. Fortunately, I'd had a nice connection with her earlier in the year.)

I had first met Geoph in the mid-80s, when he came to visit a Bay Area friend, Craig Green, who was living at Sandhill at the time. He and I hit it off right away. We were the same age, both born and raised in the Midwest, and both keenly interested in community networking (that is, in addition to building and living in community, we wanted to promote it). A couple years after we met, we both got involved in the fledgling Fellowship for Intentional Community, and shortly thereafter, Sandhill became a regular stop on Geoph's peregrinations.

Geoph had committed himself to the life of an itinerant peddler of community. He hit the road Jan 1, 1988, and had almost completed two full decades in the persona of the Peripatetic Communitarian (under which nom de plume he authored about 50 back-page columns for Communities magazine) before the sand ran out of his hourglass. While his love affairs with—and in—community (combined with a minor in social change work in general) might take him anywhere, his regular holiday itinerary was to spend Christmas with his mother in southwest Missouri, followed by a week at Sandhill (in the northeast corner of the same state), straddling both his birthday (Dec 28) and New Year's.

As Geoph was an inveterate gamer, his Xmas booty would often include a new card game or puzzle, which he'd happily bring along for an inaugural spin at Sandhill, where there was a more reliably enthusiastic audience for such harmless indulgences. And thus it came to be that from 1990 onward, Geoph and at least one jigsaw puzzle were regular features of Sandhill's New Year's landscape.

Holidays are a time of reflection, and for being with friends and loved ones. This year I was missing Geoph, and I could think of no simpler way to evoke him than to trot out ML's gift and settle into the ritual of testing my eyesight for the ability to discern subtle shifts in color and shape. I figure it had to be healthier than obliteration by egg nog.

I knew I'd made the right choice when I opened the box for the first time and discovered that ML had pasted onto the under side of the lid a photo of Geoph, Kurt Kessler (a stalwart member at nearby Dancing Rabbit), and me intently hunched over the living room table working a jigsaw puzzle while festooned in New Year's party hats. While the year was uncertain (probably in the vicinity of '00), there was no question but that I was looking at the image on the exact anniversary of the day it was taken. How did ML know I was going to do that? It was both eerie and sweet at the same time, which is not a combination you encounter every day.

While there is still sadness for me about losing Geoph, the ache is no longer so acute, and I was able to stir the coals of our special friendship as I sorted the pieces, and not succumb to anguish. As a worked the puzzle, I would connect fragments of my life with Geoph, and it was a companionable way to ring in the New Year, with echos of the past.

With Ma'ikwe's able assistance, I was able to complete assembly of the jigsaw
on New Year's Day. Now, if I could only puzzle out how to fit together as neatly all the disparate and kaleidoscopic pieces of my complicated life, then I'd really be ahead. The reflective pause has passed and it's time again to get back into harness. There is, as Geoph well knew, still plenty of networking out there to do.

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