Don’t be fooled by easy puzzles

I like doing crossword as well as sudoku puzzles in our daily newspaper.

Sometimes I think I’m wasting my time doing these puzzles, especially the sudoku ones. I mean, once you have filled in the numbers 1 through 9 in each one of the nine blocks, you have learned what? It’s a process that sometimes challenges me, especially the Friday and Saturday ones graded “evil,” but when they’re done, they’re done. What have I really learned? Putting numbers in the right spot?

Crossword puzzles ask me to think of an answer that makes sense and that challenges my vocabulary and asks me to judge whether the developer of the puzzle thinks along the same lines as I do. Usually there are clues that completely stump me, until more letters become available and the word is taking shape. Suddenly I catch the word and feel pretty good about solving a small part of the puzzle.

To come back to the sudoku puzzles. Yesterday I managed to solve the Saturday puzzle, even though the level was “evil.” That was really satisfying. There are times that I can’t solve the “evil” power of Friday and Saturday’s challenges. This morning I tackled the Monday puzzle labeled “easy.” I didn’t bother starting out in pencil, which normally allows me to modify my answers by using the eraser. No, the pen was a risk-free option. The going was fantastic. I was almost finished each block until I got stuck. The numbers suddenly clashed and I realized that my pen-written answers had misled me. That was surprising. I got yesterday’s “evil” sudoku puzzle right and I completely screwed up today’s “easy” one. I had to chuckle. Carelessness had robbed me of a satisfying conclusion. I had lightheartedly skipped into a trap.

Somehow in the back of my mind I realized that there was a hidden message in this two-day experience of solving two puzzles – the one murderously challenging and the other laughably easy.

A challenging time
My thoughts go back to the year 1950. Our family had decided to immigrate to Canada. My mother, a widow with seven children, decided that making a living in the Netherlands was almost impossible. She had to run a household, keep the hairdresser salon going for four years after my dad had passed away, and run a boutique with various beauty articles at a time when inspectors made sure all the merchandise were priced according to government rules – they couldn’t be higher or lower than the price lists issued by the government.

Fortunately, my mother could ask one of her brothers who had lived in Canada since 1928 to sponsor us. As a result we were able to immigrate four months later, May 1950. Four of her children, including me, immediately found jobs in different places, first with farmers, but months later in factories, except for my sister, who continued working with families. Four or five years later, we older children chose to go to schools to prepare for a kind of employment that suited our desires. Two of us became teachers, one a hairdresser and one a nurse. The youngest three children never interrupted their education and found their way into the workforce according to their education and talents. Mom never had to look for outside-the-family kind of employment.

Looking back to our years of immigration and finding our place in the social fabric of Canada, I realize how many the challenges had been, yet the solutions had all come in due time. It was as if the “evil” puzzle slowly unfolded itself and came to reveal itself as a very acceptable way of life that sustained us for many years. Somehow the foundation had been well established and well put into practice.

An easy choice
When I put that experience next to another one in my life that seemed very simple and easy to follow but turned out disastrous, I sense an outcome that came about through lightheartedness on my part but evolved into a huge crisis.

It had to do with Catcher in the Rye, a secular novel I taught to Grade 12 students in a Christian high school. There was a fair bit of swearing in the novel, but it was an influential best-seller and I felt that with the proper guidance the students could prepare themselves for the kind of working and studying worlds they would soon enter after graduation. I had worked in a factory for almost five years, as indicated earlier in this editorial, and was not terribly shocked by the swear words. But a conservative wing of the community was shocked and, even though I was willing to drop that novel for study, I was considered by some to be a bad influence on the students. A rather innocent issue of studying a secular novel blew up in my face and changed Christian education at that school and others for years to come.

Ah yes. You never know what lurks around a corner. I learned a lot from this experience. I’m only glad that I never turned bitter or negative about Christian education. I also learned something important about when to count your chickens.

  • Bert Witvoet is a former educator and editor of various magazines, including the Christian Courier, who lives with his wife, Alice, in St. Catharines, Ontario.

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