The Puzzle

I think I’ve mentioned somewhere long ago that I love putting together jigsaw puzzles—in fact, the more pieces, the better. This time of year when the snow is blowing hard and the “wind comes sweeping down the plain” as it does in Iowa, as well as Oklahoma, it provides a lot of reflection time while contemplating how many layers of clothing are necessary to simply go to the mailbox at around zero degrees.

So puzzles be my thing in the winter. They provide mental challenge and keep my fingers active searching for similarities in color, texture and shape. I think I have about 20 boxes of them now, and every winter I pull them all out, one by one, and obsess over them hour after hour until each is completed.

Then I make myself wait at least a day after puzzle completion before I crumple the pieces all together again, stuff them back into their plastic bag until next winter, and pull out another one to start. (My thing must be in the challenge, rather than the completion. I don’t linger long on accomplishments.)

I view thisIMG_5089 dismantling aspect as similar to the Tibetan Monks creating their multi-colored sand paintings. If you’ve never witnessed that amazing process of creation and dissipation, it is well worth your time.

After the monk’s reverent acknowledgement of their sand-mandala’s completion, and after adequate “beauty and unity” contemplation time, the monks then ceremoniously gather all the brightly-colored sands into a single cDSC_0167ontainer and bless the local rivers with the sand mixture that had once been their total focus and purpose for being, during those awesome hours of unified cDSC_0186reation.

Likewise, I always bless the large, plastic storage box beneath my card table with mine, at least until next year.

Why I’m mentioning this puzzle fixation again is that yesterday as I’m nearing the “last hundred pieces” point (meaning 9/10ths of puzzle completed), I was looking at the remaining vacant space in the puzzle frame and eyeing the pieces remaining to be appropriately relocated into the picture, and thinking “If Life is metaphor, what is the metaphor that I am displaying here in what I am doing?”

It was easily seen that I had left the most “difficult to determine differences” (3D) section of the puzzle to the last where there were fewer pieces to choose from, which meant greater likelihood of success in selection.

At this point, my eyes were tiring and with fewer pieces on the table, I switched to a comparison strategy with the remaining shapes—which means I put all the pieces with knobs at top and bottom, on one side of the table, and the pieces with knobs at the sides on the other. Then I lined them up in columns so my eyes could more quickly slide down each column looking for tell-tale differences in knob size and location on the piece.

Depending on the puzzle design, some have only two basic shapes: knobs at top and bottom, or knobs at the sides. Other puzzles designers have the most contorted, no-two-shapes-the-same thing going that make this type of categorizing impossible, but this puzzle allowed for comparison columns. That was my end-strategy for completion.

“How does this apply to your life?” my mind kept prodding. “What is YOUR end-strategy for completion?” (Oh, now THAT put a different twist to that life-as-metaphor-thing, didn’t it? Yes.)

My end-strategy for completion as demonstrated by this metaphorical puzzle presently under my nose:

  • Subtlety….it’s about subtle differences now—about detail and finesse—the aspects you might have overlooked before when there was too many choices.
  • Now I looked for subtle color hues and picture clarity or fuzziness per piece—individual distinction and color blends.
  • I simplified the selection comparison process—to be easier on the eyes and mind.
  • I had a specific area left to finish, so I narrowed my focus and attention to further sub-dividing the section left to work into even smaller areas until one area was completed, then I moved to another section and did the same. (That “sub-dividing and conquering” thing.)
  • I also savored the selection of the last ten pieces because I knew that what was left was the end of my time with this puzzle, so I carefully scanned the choices before reaching for a possibility. I’m more selective of friends now as well.

As I now stare down at the completed puzzle—a white-ish Bavarian castle surrounded in fall foliage, backdropped by blue mountains and baby-blue sky with puffy white clouds—all 18” x 23” of it, I think of what my friend said when she saw me about midway into it: “Why are you doing that one? It’s not very pretty. It doesn’t look very fun to do.”

And I think, well, once I start a puzzle I don’t quit until I’ve finished it. Maybe that IS the metaphor of my life here. It may not be very pretty or much fun, but it’s mine—it’s MY puzzle.

It’s really not the end-point that matters in life, since the end is pre-determined for all of us. What matters most in life is in how well we face each challenge along the way, and how we make all those seemingly-random pieces of our life fit together into a coherent picture by the end.

Life for all of us is a challenge to be accepted, deciphered and made sense of in the best way that we can.

We frame our lives in the context of not-so-random pieces brought together for a purpose. The challenge for us is in determining that IMG_5049purpose before we complete the puzzle. Hopefully we all can do that—make some sense of our own puzzles before the end. I hope you can. I’m still working on mine.

Photos by Angel Lyle, Davenport, Iowa

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