There are hardly more frustrating experiences than having searched the house for the last piece of the puzzle. It doesn’t matter whether the puzzle is a simple pre-school child’s version of a mere handful of pieces, or a far more time-consuming, complex and complicated puzzle of a thousand little bits of funny-shaped and patterned cardboard.
If you can’t find that one missing piece, then that one empty space will be what you’ll forever see.
Her father would not be home for Christmas. Not this one. Not the next one. Never had and never would. The father she never knew loomed large as the single missing piece in her life. His was the empty space only this unknown man could occupy, and there the pattern of who she was and where she’d come was broken, disrupted, a hole left in her heart that nothing else, and no one else, could fill.
“She said she had always wondered about him and as a little girl had cried over this void in her life.”
‘Who is our grandfather?’ her own four children used to ask early on as pages of the passing months from the old calendar were torn from the wall.
She could only shrug her shoulders, shake her head in silence, and sob alone when they’d gone back to play, their question unanswered.
It was this long-lingering heart-cry to one day, somehow, piece together the puzzle of the father she never knew that caught my attention, as the page upon which her pain was expressed – the last page recounting the experiences in Vietnam of a friend of mine – rolled off the printer.
He had received from her an email in which she had expressed her understanding that the two of them – the one with whom she was now corresponding, and her father – had served together over there. That perhaps he knew the man she did not.
She wrote, “I was hoping that maybe you can fill in the gaps of the man who gave me life. They say I look like him, something about my brown eyes that is undeniably his.”
There’s something significantly special about the mere mention of home at this time of year that strikes an empathetic cord, strums the emotional heart strings and replays the melody of childhood memories.
Whether it’s Bing Crosby’s famous rendition of the most requested song at Christmas U.S.O.’s – when the soldiers of World War II learned they would not be home for Christmas after all; or a 16-year-old boy’s longing to be reunited with his mom – which will never happen; or saying the two most difficult words in any language at the bedside of a dear loved one who is leaving for the final time, home is where the heart longs to be.
With perhaps his signature “I’ll be Home for Christmas”, Crosby was said to have accomplished more for military morale than anyone else of that era. As it turns out, the tender place touched in the hearts of Americans, both soldiers and civilians, who were then in the depths of the war, was also the reason the astronauts of Gemini 7, in December of 1965, requested NASA Mission Control to have that very tune played as they returned home from the longest flight in the U.S. space program.
With all of the technological advancement and engineering sophistication that can permit highly-trained specialists piloting spacecraft to hurtle through the darkness for the first ever rendezvous somewhere in outer space, yet there’s a stronger pull and deeply embedded something that tugs at the heart – hard-wired for home.
‘The back-eddies of the flowing river reflected our tears, the drooping willows – on which we hung our harps – matched our spirits,’ describes the Israeli captives in Babylon of ancient history as they thought of home.
“When I realized I had placed the final period at the end of my story, and closed the book,” my friend related of his time in Vietnam, “there was a sense not of relief but something more akin to sadness, an undefinable emptiness, gloom maybe that what had happened over there a long forty-four years ago seemed somehow unfinished.”
Turns out it wasn’t finished. One day he received an email from a gal unknown to him inquiring about a father she didn’t know. Their story continues now nearly a half-century later.