Enigma (e-nig’-ma): Obscuring one’s meaning by presenting it within a riddle or by means of metaphors that purposefully challenge the reader or hearer to understand.

I’m tall when I’m young and short when I’m old. What am I? I don’t know. I lost my book Why Riddles: Wrestling With Obscurity. I think I left it under my pillow. It’s the only place I haven’t looked. I’m sure I’ll find it when I go to bed tonight. If I do, I’ll text you the answer to the tall-short riddle. It might be like the “How many toes does a crayon have?” riddle. My quick answer is “none,” but that thwarts the riddle and displays an immature drive to kill that particular riddle. It thwarts the spirit of the riddle that has carried people beyond the vagaries of literalism, to the hallowed heights of metaphors, and similes and puns for millennia.

When I was in the Army, I knew a guy who worked in the message vault. He carried a .45 and picked up and delivered messages in his own Jeep. When he was working spoke only in puns or obscure pronouncements. I though he had gone crazy spending his time in the message vault when he wasn’t picking up or delivering messages. The vault was like a big bank vault with stacks of messages scattered around. I asked what he did with the stacked, undelivered, messages. He said: “The flight of the bluebird is aimless.” I could sort of understand him—maybe the bluebirds were the messages, flight was delivery. But aimless was pretty much beyond me—maybe it meant that the addressee was unknown, so they couldn’t be delivered. I asked him if I got it right and he said: “You are taking a tour without a compass.” Well, that was clear—I was not right and I was headed in the wrong direction. I asked him if I was right about being wrong. He said: “Apples and tomatoes can be red or yellow.”

My visit with my buddy was going south. I was headed down a dead end street. I was dancing in the dark. I was on a treadmill. I was running on a Hamster wheel. I’d been dealt an empty hand. The chain was off my bike. My shoe laces were tied together. My brain was in neutral.

I was frustrated, but he was my buddy, and I could still remember him before he was put in the vault. Maybe his purposeful obscurity was part of his training to keep from inadvertently disclosing top secret message content. Anyway, I visited him after the war. He was living in the psychiatric ward of his local VA hospital. They didn’t know what to do with him, so they kept him. He wasn’t dangerous, but he made people angry with his crooked talk. I sort of knew how he felt. My head was full of secrets too, but I didn’t care. I would blurt them out. As a consequence, a lot of people were afraid of me. Secrets are secrets for a reason.

I’m going off course. My GPS is smoking. My roadmap is blank. I am lost in space. My bulldozer is stalled. I am drowning in memories. But, I’m ok. When I think of Cinderella I am calmed. When I think of Porterhouse steak, I develop an appetite. When I think of dreams, I want to go to bed. When I write, I’m quite clear. When I talk, not so much. When I sing, I am an angel spreading light.

Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu).

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