Saturday, November 13, 2010

Puzzle Me This

Today I was thinking about jigsaw puzzles.

I love jigsaw puzzles, but I don't do them anywhere nearly as often as I would like. The first problem is space. I don't have a large flat space that isn't covered by vertical piles of junk. And, before you blame me and my junk, let me assure you that even if the junk were gone, there still wouldn't be a flat space that was large enough.  The second problem is cats. Cats and puzzles never mix, unless your goal is to find puzzle pieces all over the house, including the litter box. The third problem is time. This is probably the biggest problem of the three. But in this case, it's not only that I'm lacking minutes in the day. My problem is, once I start a puzzle, I tend not to stop. 10pm, 11pm, midnight, 1pm, 2pm... it's ridiculous. Working a puzzle is an unhealthy addictive "just one more piece" kind of activity that often defines my somewhat compulsive lifestyle.

But I still love them. To pick a puzzle with a picture that somehow speaks to you, open up the sealed box and dump the pieces on a table is great fun. After that, though, it's all business.  The box must stand on end so the picture can be easily seen without having to pick the box up and look at it.  Pieces are instantly sorted edge/non-edge pieces, and usually the non-edge pieces will be further sorted at the same time.  Like-looking parts of the picture go into their own piles in order to reduce the number of sorts that will have to happen.  Once the sorting is done, the edge must be completed first.  There is no other way. Once the border is in place, I start working on the various piles, working to find something that will connect to the edge so it doesn't swim around in the middle of the puzzle like a lonely ice floe.

My precise (OK, compulsive) method of puzzle construction might make this activity sound more like a chore and less like fun, but I really do enjoy it.  After all, I selected the outcome -- the picture -- in the store when I purchased it.  All I have to do is put the pieces in the proper order, and then I'll have exactly what I expected.  It's neat and clean without any surprises.  It's a sure-thing.  Satisfaction guaranteed.

Today I was thinking about jigsaw puzzles as I drove home from a funeral.  Today we said goodbye to a dear  friend, mother and church lady and choir member.  The tributes were touching, funny, beautiful and moving.  And even though I had known this person for a long, long time, more than once I found myself thinking a very sad thought:  "I didn't know that."

This ended up being something of a theme of many of the speakers:  Thoughts unsaid. Feelings unexpressed. Lives lived quietly.  Pictures and stories and pieces of life never picked up and examined.  A puzzle left uncompleted.

I thought to myself, in a sense, this was one of the functions of a funeral.  We all came together with our parts of the puzzle, and shared what we had.  Some had edge pieces that gave shape and definition and boundaries.  Others had beautiful pieces of sky, or the deep shadow of a tree.  In this particular puzzle there would be cats and books, humor and music.  There would be scholars and philosophers and great religious leaders.  There would be absolutely no zucchini anywhere.  And I'd like to imagine that although the border of the puzzle might be a bit blurry and monochromatic, at its heart, where life and love and family lived, it would a symphony of colors.

I wonder why we don't take more time to gather more puzzle pieces while we can.  Is it that the work is too difficult?  That we don't have time?  Or is it that because we don't know the outcome, because there is no picture on a box to use as a guide, we choose to spend our time on something else that is more of a sure thing?

If that is the case, then more's the pity.  The joy is in the discovery of the piece that had been laying in front of you all along, waiting to be noticed.  Maybe it is an anchor piece, or one of many in a chorus of beautiful blue sky.  Maybe it is part of the deep shadow of a tree.  Maybe it is a funny-shaped piece that makes you smile.  The lesson I took from today was to take the time to find as many puzzle pieces as possible.  Listen closely and look carefully, as this works much better than talking and assuming what the final picture will be.  And then gather all the stories and the observations and the memories -- the puzzle pieces of life -- and share them.

The experience, I know, will be enriching.
The result, I promise will be astounding.
A life well-lived, a family well-loved.  A symphony of colors.

Thank you, Lois.

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