Life lessons from a jigsaw puzzle


In the last three weeks, I've worked on four jigsaw puzzles. That wasn't my plan; it just worked out that way. I've worked my way up from two smaller ones, a manageable 300-piece and a 500, to a bigger 1,000 and now an insane 1,500. The last two I actually bought for myself thinking that a quiet indoor pastime would be a suitable and satisfying way to spend some cold winter weekends. Little did I know what I would learn about myself and about life.


One of the hardest parts of a jigsaw puzzle is getting all the pieces on the table turned over. Takes a while with 1,500 pieces. That done, I think most people do what I do which is to assemble the border. The flat edges make them easier to find. With your agile brain and good color recognition skills, you get that part done and feel pretty smug. Don't. This is a false sense of accomplishment. Lesson one: You aren't as smart as you think you are.


The next logical step for me is to organize the pieces by color. You know, reds, blues, greens. Lesson two: There are a lot more colors in this world than you thought. And they are mixed up all over the place.

Still, you persist and, for a while, things go according to the plan. The work starts coming together. Good for you. You've actually completed a small section when you discover that there's a piece with a reddish out and two white ins that's not here. You look everywhere. You search among every possible piece with those colors in that shape that you've brought to this part of the table. You carefully try the same three candidates about 72 times turning them left, left, left and back to the start again before you neatly place them down, keeping them nearby because you know by the colors that they have to go somewhere here. You expand your search to other pieces on the rest of the table with a tomato-reddish out and two dirty snow-white ins and find one or two. You try them. Left, left, left, left. Nope. Place them carefully nearby and try one of those other ones for the 73rd time. Lesson three: Everything you think is true is not actually true.

You look on the floor. You accuse the cat of chewing up that one piece. You wonder who's in charge of quality control at the Ravensburger Puzzle factory and consider lodging a complaint. Your back is beginning to hurt and you realize that it's dark outside and you forgot to feed the cat. As you begin to walk away, a piece with a plum-red out and two cloudy-white ins catches your eye. Ah ha, there it is. But no. That's not it either. You try those other pieces for a 74th time. You sit. Another hour goes by. Lesson four: Addiction is a subtle, insidious process, and it's real.

The howling cat, your screaming back and growling stomach finally conspire successfully to take you away from the table. With a gentle sense of surprise, you recognize your familiar surroundings, welcoming the break. You feed the animal, yourself, water the plants, fold the laundry and read the news. You even walk past the puzzle on the table a few times as you complete your other chores. And when you walk back, and stand in a different spot, you see the missing piece. It's right there! Right with all the other ones and you realize it's actually a plum-red in and two smoky-gray outs. You neatly tap it into place. Lesson five: You have everything you need to accomplish your task. You always did.


Wishing you an open mind, the ability to get out of your own way, compassion, peace and love to you in the week ahead.