Puzzle me this

Not long ago, a friend told me a story she had carried with her from childhood. I felt honored, because the memory was painful so she didn’t share it often. With her permission, and a few details obscured, here’s the story:

When I was a kid, my dad took me to visit an elderly friend. The guy had a problem with barn swallows, and since his hand wasn’t as steady as it used to be, he handed Dad his pellet gun and asked him to see if he could get rid of them.** Dad agreed, and off we went.

Hoping I might be the next Annie Oakley, Dad had been teaching me to shoot, so when we got to the barn, he handed me the gun. When one of the birds tried to dive bomb us, I shouldered the gun and took a shot. I couldn’t believe it–I hit it on the first try!

When we walked over to where the bird fell, we saw that it was still alive and struggling. The humane thing to do was to put it out of its misery, and of course, Dad told me to do it. I felt sick. I agonized. I cried.

When I finally took the shot at point-blank range, I missed. I have no idea how, but I missed. I put down the gun and walked away, leaving Dad to do my dirty work. To this day, I feel like I failed. I couldn’t do the hard work when it needed to be done. What’s wrong with me?

Nothing, friend. Nothing is wrong with you.

Here’s how I see it. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and we spend a lifetime amassing experiences that illustrate those. If we so choose, we can use those experiences to better understand ourselves and grow from them.

My friend recounted her story to me when she was anguishing over a tough situation in her life right now. She contends that she has never been able to do what she calls the “dirty work,” and because of that, she’s a failure.

I learned a different lesson from her story, though. I saw that hurting others causes her excruciating pain, even when she knows it will lead to the best outcome. That’s not a strength or a weakness; that’s just part of her character. What she didn’t understand, though, was that when the going got tough, she leaned on someone whom she knew could do the job.

Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? Ask for help when the job gets too big?

I really hope she learns to see it that way. Knowing what she’s not cut out to do will allow her to call on those to whom it comes easily–and I guarantee that she’d be the first one jumping in to help me when I run into my own edges. That’s not failure; it’s why we’re all here. Humankind is like a giant puzzle, with each person filling others’ gaps to make a complete picture.

Know your limitations. Ask for help when you need it. Share your strengths generously.

**Remember, folks, we’re talking about rural Indiana, decades ago. This isn’t a gun debate or an animal rights discussion.

4 thoughts on “Puzzle me this

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  1. Amen! I was recently reminded of the little boy trying to put a puzzle of the world together that was made from the cover of Time magazine. His father was amazed when he mastered it. “I don’t know how the world goes Daddy” the boy said. “But there’s a picture of a person on the other side and i know how that goes.” We all only know part of the puzzle…but no doubt knowing people helps us put it together.

  2. Great insight as always Tammy. On a professional note, I have been asked to do a few things that I could not do and reacted “poorly” when people have verbally attacked people who have reported to me. I do not “have a switch” that turns off how much I care about those who work with me. More than once I have lost a job because I am ” a friend/human being” first and a boss/co-worker second. It is hard to stand by “what makes you who you are ” when you know the consequences may not be pleasant, but I am happy that I have never let a job change “who I am”.

    1. You are one of the good ones, Ern. Your integrity is top notch, and I’m glad you’ve ended up on a journey, however willingly, that has led you exactly where you are. You just can’t keep a lid on the good.

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