Point of Reference
We’re coming up on Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque and I was reminded of a time when I bought two jigsaw puzzles of hot air balloons and gave one to a friend for her birthday, keeping the other one for myself. A few months later I asked her how her progress was in completing it. She’s a very smart woman who told me she enjoyed puzzles and I thought she would have finished it by that time. I was surprised, then, when she seemed a bit frustrated and answered that she hadn’t gotten very far along.
“Why?” I asked. She explained that she was having a difficult time figuring out what the puzzle was meant to be. She said that she thought it was a picture of hot air balloons but that she wasn’t sure.
“Haven’t you looked at the cover of the box?” I asked, knowing that the cover clearly showed a picture of the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. My friend’s answer surprised me. “I don’t look at the covers of puzzle boxes. I don’t like to have a picture to work from. I prefer not to know.”
I don’t do a lot of jigsaw puzzles. It’s usually a once a year activity for me. When I do work one, however, I always use the picture. In fact, I can’t imagine trying to put a puzzle together without some point of reference. I told my friend that I didn’t understand why she is making something meant to fun so difficult. But she admits, this is a kind of challenge and she refuses to make it easier for herself.
Later, as I thought about my friend and reflected on her family history, her refusal of a point of reference actually makes sense. She grew up in a very dysfunctional family. She never knew her father; and although her mother, grandmother, and aunt provided her with a home, it wasn’t really much of one since they were often evicted from their places of residence. Things were always unstable. None of the women in her life finished high school, had meaningful professions, or engaged in healthy relationships of any kind. They all died from alcoholism. Although her mother worked hard to try and provide my friend with some important standards, (She took her daughter to the library every Saturday, signed her up for religious classes, and made sure she learned to play the accordion.) my friend never really had a role model, a point of reference showing her the woman she wanted to be. According to my friend, she had to figure everything out for herself, every aspect of being a healthy, responsible, educated, and socially apt woman. Everything has been a kind of trial and error experience for her and in most things, she has succeeded.
I can’t imagine my life without the role models that have helped shape and nurture me. I can’t imagine how I would have managed my education, my choices, my marriage, my work, my passions, without the women in my family, my teachers and coaches and friends. I look at my history and I know for a fact that I have always had a point of reference, always had a picture, a living model, to look at and say, “this is who I want to be. This is what I want to try or do. This is how I want to live.”
When my friend visited after I had given her the puzzle, I tried to persuade her to take a look at the cover of my box; but she is a creature of habit and she told me that she will figure out this puzzle like she has all the others in her life. I finally finished mine and it was really quite beautiful; and like the way of my life, the choices made and the lessons learned, the celebrations and even the sorrows, I’m so glad that I’ve always had a picture, always had a point of reference from the women who have taught me how a good life really looks. It is true what they say, life is a puzzle with lots of pieces we try to put together. I’m just glad I always had some help.
Here's hoping you've had positive points of reference in your life!
You are the light of the world.
NMCC Conference Director