After his great fall, Mr. Dumpty took to wearing a corset. His figure had never been the kind that favored off-the-rack clothing, even those catering to pear-shaped figures, and, due to the way his shoulders tapered into his head, he had to cross his suspenders if his pants were to stay up. But with the help of a reconstruction surgeon and the passage of time, the broken pieces of shell had fused well enough that he had been able to return to work and, in fact, he had been promoted to a senior position in his firm–manager of services to surrounding rural communities.
He still avoided looking in a mirror, not so much because of lingering disfigurement but because his eyes were not quite aligned, and he had difficulty keeping a steady image for more than a moment. This wasn’t a big problem when viewing the world at large and may have given him a more holistic view of things. But it was disconcerting that when he was talking one-on-one with someone, they would periodically look over his right shoulder, as if they thought his eyes were trying to draw their attention to something hovering behind him.
This feeling of being off balance was not so much a matter of physical imbalance as that his mind was no longer fully under his control. Sometimes, in the middle of a business meeting, he might burst out with the same question that woke him up every night; and he would not be aware that he had spoken out loud until he noticed the others looking at him, some not troubling to hide their mirth.
“Which came first, then?”, he would have blurted out, his query unrelated to the discussion underway–whether about anticipated crop yields or the demand for corn—but then someone at the table might request clarification, although they already knew what his answer would be.
“Which what came first, Sir?”
And, driven by a need that was as insistent as it was inappropriate to the matter at hand, Mr. Dumpty would provide that clarification,
“Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”
It might then transpire that someone, feeling unprepared for the discussion that had been interrupted and being in no hurry for it to resume—the budget for the upcoming year or the amount of grain to be ordered to feed the new chicks –would suggest, with a sidelong glance at the others, that this question hit on the very nature of their business.
Fortunately, Mr. Dumpty, from long practice and from an upbringing in which he had felt loved and valued, was able to avoid becoming the victim. He was well acquainted with how schoolyard weakness could invoke cruelty in others. He had learned from the sobering example of seeing chicks with their backs pecked out because of a small lesion there, to joke his way out of unwanted attention: “I guess this is not the time for imponderable, metaphysical questions,” he would deflect. And then the others would usually go back to the meeting with a chuckle.
One day, when an elderly egg from a neighboring farm was visiting, he had one of his episodes, from which he quickly retreated with his usual evasions. And later, during a break in the meeting, the neighbor joined him out in the yard where a refreshing breeze was blowing.
As soon as he had sat down, with no preamble, the neighbor started speaking.
“I understand that you’re concerned about which came first, the chicken or the egg. But you know what? The question of beginnings only arises once we’re in the middle of everything. And we’re only really concerned about beginnings when we’re nervous about how it will all end. Then, perhaps deeply afraid that our life is about to end, we’re suddenly concerned whether we have done what we were born to do. And, realizing that we haven’t taken advantage of all the opportunities that are now about to vanish, we tremble at the threshold of whatever may be coming next.
“Your question can’t actually be answered on its own terms, but it can be the seed from which another question grows. Can we learn from what has happened to us, from the events that have marked us, even disfigured us? Can our losses and their assaults on our confidence open into a greater time, a time in which our entire life can be seen to be beyond either beginnings or endings?”
That night, Mr. Dumpty slept without interruption. And when he arose at dawn, he felt like a freshly hatched egg, rolling around in the nest of eternity.