The Puzzle of a Thousand Pieces

I cannot remember my brother’s face. I was six the very last time I saw it, and blood was everywhere.

The garage was always creepy to me anyway. Too many times we’d walked into the garage of my family home and seen a rat or two running for cover. My dad tried to rid them with poison and traps, but they always came back. Any time I entered the garage alone, I did it slowly.

“Tommy?” my little voice called. I couldn’t see him right away, my line of sight was protected by the pool table, but I heard his breathing. It was rough, gurgling. For a split second it sounded like snoring, like they do in the cartoons, loud, exaggerated, and with the line of Z’s vibrating above. I relaxed a bit. I’d found Tommy and he was sleeping in the garage.

But he wasn’t sleeping. He wasn’t snoring. These were my brother’s last breaths.

Because I was only as tall as the pool table then, I couldn’t see him lying face up on the thin green layer of AstroTurf that covered our garage floor, until taking one additional step around the pool table’s angled corner. The visual memory of what I witnessed is barely inside my head today. I saw Tommy. I saw the red blood all about his head and how brightly it contrasted against the green of the AstroTurf. I never saw the gun.

Instantly, I turned and ran for help. I have no memory of why my mom wasn’t home at that moment, but she wasn’t. There was no need calling for her. I raced to a neighbor’s house in tears, distressed and sobbing to the point it was difficult for adults to make out what I was saying. To the first neighbor that answered their door, I pleaded, “Something happened. Something happened to Tommy… I think he got bit by a rat.” That’s how my little mind put two and two together. I had no concept of suicide, no understanding of what it was like to be 19 years old and hopeless. I was six. I knew rats were scary and had big teeth.

Tommy left behind a note for my mother. It said, “I owe Stewart $10. Please pay him back for me.”


I’d already done a lot of contemplating about where I wanted to live and work. Yet, there was another, even bigger, puzzle I needed to solve. This would turn out to be the biggest puzzle of them all. 

I have 25 years to live. What am I going to do?

It’s now July of 2020 as I begin telling you the story of how this grand puzzle gets solved. As if it were a physical jigsaw puzzle to be dumped from its box onto a table, I’m giving this puzzle the name: 1 More World. Look on the side of the box, this puzzle has 1,000 interlocking pieces. As I share this particular story with you, bear in mind, it will not be completed in one post, just as any puzzle of a 1,000 pieces would not be finished in one evening. I will tackle different sections of the puzzle individually until enough of it is finished for you to see the same picture that was revealed to me. Even though parts of it remain unfinished today, I know what the 1 More World puzzle is showing me. 

I expect all of the pieces to be found and dropped into place over the course of the next 6 to 12 months. For now, I will take you back to the end of last year when I was finally ready to be selfish…. in the best possible way.

Re-thinking Selfish

Ah, your immediate reaction is probably to question whether selfishness could ever be a good thing. I assure you it can. The word “selfish” most certainly gets a bad rap. If we’re talking about people who struggle with the concept of sharing, then I’m totally on board. But if it is a person taking time to reflect on what they want out of life, I will be the first to come to their defense. Call me selfish and I will thank you for the compliment.

Unfortunately, most people never have the opportunity to truly be selfish. Or, they weren’t selfish enough when the opportunity was there. Once one enters adulthood, life’s immediate challenges of money, job, relationships, family, house, holidays, etc., always seem to take precedence and the best of selfishness gets no attention.

After a year of me living in Denver… life was, for the most part, pretty good. I’d made a few good friends. My job was tough, but I felt good about it. The biggest frustration I had at home was my struggle getting a consistent water temperature out of the shower. The house I lived in was 120 years old and its original claw-footed tub and shower faucet couldn’t hold a steady temp, even with the rubber bands we tried to strategically stretch around the handles.

Joy and happiness have always been elusive concepts to me, And my new life in Denver hadn’t changed that. However, stability and certainty were at their highest levels ever in my life. I had no fires to put out, and no fish to fry (being a vegetarian and all). And finally, I was sitting on more life experiences than at any other point. 

My table top was cleared. Let’s work this puzzle.

Debbie Downer Rocks My World

One of the best media outlets I’ve found is an online news show called, The Young Turks (a.k.a. TYT) – the largest and longest-running news show on the Internet. If you have never heard of them before, they are totally worth checking out. I think most people learn about them through their YouTube channel, but their show is also televised on Roku, Pluto and many other platforms. Their news is founded on journalistic integrity and facts, but it’s the outspoken commentary of the hosts that really makes the show unique and often fun even when the news depresses. The core of The Young Turks is a daily 2 hour long “main show,” but they also offer additional content for $10/mo subscribers (like me). One of those “extra content” shows is the Friday Post Game. The show’s three co-hosts talked about starting up a book club. Their first chosen book was, Civilized to Death by Christopher Ryan. Not wanting to be left out of the club, I read it.

Holy Mother of Thor! Talk about pulling back the curtain on everything! Civilized to Death is a point-by-point takedown of the universally accepted idea that we are far better off now as a species than at any other time in our human history. In some narrow ways, mostly related to specific advances in medicine, we are surely better off. But there are many measures by which we fall short. 

The book’s core message is that humans evolved over millions of years to live one way and that the advent of civilization swept us off in a direction we’re not really suited for. If you want the details, take my recommendation and read Civilized to Death.

That Sounds Awesome!

As I was reading the book, I would tell my friend Vanessa about all the ways the book says ‘we suck.’ Well, Vanessa….being the stay positive person she is, didn’t really enjoy hearing me recount the fall of mankind; so, pretty soon she starts referring to the book as ‘The Debbie Downer Book.’ I can’t say she’s wrong, either. 

Like any good book, The Debbie Downer Book makes you think. And when I did my thinking, I wondered how I could live my life more in-line with my true evolved nature. [As you can tell, I bought the book’s premise.] Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. The book makes a compelling case that prior to “civilization” people used to “work” an average of 3 – 4 hours a day. So I’m thinking, Man, that sounds awesome!  And I have “work” in quotes because prior to civilization, the concept of “a job” as we experience it, did not exist..

I read the book and just took this information in. Nothing in my life abruptly changed as a result. However, in terms of my puzzle analogy, that book did a great job of helping me to connect a whole lot of pieces together. It wasn’t nearly enough for me to know what 1 More World was showing me, but the puzzle was one step closer to being solved. 


Regarding stories from my past, like the one I share with you at the top of this post, these too will fill in significant sections of my puzzle. These are the broken pieces… and the ones that appear to have gone missing altogether. I am finding them now. I am making a few repairs. All of the pieces of my life will have their place. 

Next up, I will introduce you to Jesus. And it will all make sense.

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Gary is a Solar Technician and writer living in Boulder, CO, who loves to play Ultimate frisbee!!

6 thoughts on “The Puzzle of a Thousand Pieces”

  1. Intense. And I can certainly say that Civilized to Death is a downer book. I am hoping for a call to action at the end, but I can’t see how there could be one.


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