Monday, April 9, 2012
There are mysteries and there are puzzles and they're not the same thing. The difference is information: with a mystery, we have all the information we need; what remains is our pondering, our musings, analysis, effort, passage of time, insight, but not more data. A puzzle is different; we can't answer the question until we get some more information. With that one more bit of information, the solution is revealed. (Thank Malcolm Gladwell for the distinction).
I remember my first significant mystery. I didn't like it. Or maybe it was a puzzle. Or perhaps just an eternally unsolvable mystery. It was grade school - the nuns presented us with the Trinity: Father, Son, Holy Spirit (well, it was Holy Ghost back then). I was probably around 8 years old. I was raised in a home of "thou shalt question everything", so I said the obvious "I don't understand". My literal nature goes back a long way, and the Trinity did not compute. I imagine the nun probably simply repeated herself - it is three and it is one. I asked again and got the ultimate nun-response: "It is a Divine Mystery". That may have tided me over for a bit, but not long. Divine Mystery? I can hear even my child-self saying 'well, that covers an awful lot of ground, now doesn't it, Sister Whoever? They used the image of a shamrock - it's three and it's one. As if that would make it believable. I don't think I spent much time trying to solve that one, and I never quite accepted it as true. The nuns see a mystery; I see myth.
Sometimes I get stuck in "why?" and can't find my way out. Sometimes I still can't tell if the question, the dilemma - is a mystery or is it a puzzle? Do I need to get more information or just try to unravel the facts I have? Or worse yet - is it unsolvable?
Why did my heart stop? Why didn't yours? If I knew the answer to that, could I tell if mine is going to stop again? Why did I get to the ER in time that day? Will the same instinct kick in next time? Or does Skippy the implanted defibrillator make that instinct superfluous?
Why do people do what they do? I waste so much time acting as if the questions were puzzles. What makes a kind person behave cruelly? Why do I continue to care about something I should not care about? If I can accept a heart that stops, how can you yield to a lesser fear? Why do all of us engage in destructive behavior? I'm close to concluding - as my 8 year old self did -- screw it. Some things are un-knowable. Maybe Sister Mary Whoever had it right ---- Divine Mystery indeed.
The photo is Rich's Inlet. Mystery surrounds it.