On a dreary, wet day, early in January, I opened a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle, thinking that I would tackle it over the next several days. I was soon hooked on the challenge, settling on the common strategy of finding all the straight-edged border pieces then filling in the centre. After the border was complete, the next step was to find recognizable pattern snippets that would go together to make part of the image. Occasionally, needing some help, I would refer to the puzzle box to
get a clue. Eventually I was down to the last hundred and fifty pieces and they all looked pretty much the same. Colour patterns now were very similar, so I had to switch tactics and rely on shapes and sizes to make them fit. Most of the picture was visible but the last bit was much slower and, in the end, didn’t add that much more to the overall image. After about 15 scattered hours, over two days, I had the puzzle done.
There was one piece missing and two of the other pieces fit together themselves but refused to squish into the space where they looked like they belonged. Marilyn Monroe’s visage was missing her forehead. I crawled around on the floor under the table but the piece was not to be found. I never did find it but in the end it really didn’t matter to me. After a day of congratulating myself when I looked at the completed work, I tore it apart and it went back into the box.
I had thought that I would put on some music while doing the puzzle but I did not. The only noise for those 15 hours, apart from my muttering to myself, was the tick tock of the 125-year-old clock that has been in our family since the late 1800’s. Sometimes the rhythm reminded me of a tune that I would hum to myself. I was always surprised, when the clock struck the hour, that the time had gone by so quickly. One night I spend from 6pm until 1am non-stop working on the puzzle in silence. Those who know me will wonder at the silence part.
When it was all done, I reflected how this venture was like life itself.
The puzzle started as a lot of seemingly unrelated little parts but it gradually took shape into something that was recognizable and had a pattern that made sense. The process had challenges and sometimes it seemed like it would not work out but eventually, if I persisted and stayed the course, I was able to find a piece that fit. Finding one piece might lead to a cascade of success which soon returned to the usual plodding on another section of the puzzle. In the end, there was a clear picture even though a couple of pieces would not fit in and one was missing. Overall it made sense even without those three missing units. After all, I had found links to 997 of the 1000 pieces, not a bad record. Then, after I had a chance to rest and appreciate the picture for a short time, the whole thing was reduced to how it had started and went into a box.
Like life, the end point was not the goal. It was the process that was important. The ticking of the antique clock made me conscious of the passing of time as I tried to make sense of the numerous pieces. Because it was a family heirloom, I also think that, in the silence, it also was a connection with those who had gone before me and who had also contributed to my own life picture. When I was finished the puzzle, I looked at what I had accomplished and was quite satisfied with the effort but also content to have it fragment back into 1000 – or as I had discovered, 999 – unrecognizable pieces.
We are all given a different life picture to work on. We may reach places where we are stalled or have to put one area of our puzzle aside for a while until we find pieces that help it make sense somewhere else. Progress comes in bursts and the closer we get to the end, the slower the process becomes and each piece added may have less impact on the whole image we are creating – more like finishing touches. We acknowledge the effort that it took and hope that it makes some sense even if every piece does not fit. And then we must be prepared to let it go. It is the process that provides the satisfaction, not the final picture that can, and will, be quickly reduced back to unrecognizable fragments.
A variant of ashes to ashes?