Collecting Puzzle Pieces

Remember how, when you were a kid you got a kick out of putting together jigsaw puzzles? At our house, even after I had kids of my own, we often had a puzzle going, especially in the winter, just sitting on a card table wherever there was room. When we got home from school or work, or after homework or dinner, or whenever, whoever wanted to would sit down there for ten minutes or an hour, finding pieces and fitting them in, building the picture on the box. It was a cool thing to do on a winter’s evening, with your folks or brothers and sisters, and even with your nana, who might find a piece or two and plug it in whenever she stopped by.

It was a great stress reliever, if your brain was tired from being in school all day or at work on a particularly knotty problem, and that tiny sensation of triumph you felt at each successfully placed piece was like a momentary dip in the pool at your happy place — cool, refreshing, and smile-making. Even better, the sense of accomplishment that came with finishing the puzzle, placing the last dozen or so pieces, felt the same, only multiplied by at least a factor of 10. In fact, some scientist or other would probably say what’s happening in that moment is that your brain is releasing a mini-cascade of feel-good endorphins into your system, giving you the puzzler’s equivalent of runner’s high.

Usually when you got up from the puzzle table, whatever had been bugging you when you sat down, wasn’t bugging you anymore, your brain felt refreshed and not so tired, and maybe your subconscious had even untangled a few of those knots while you were “playing.”

But the best thing about puzzles was the more you did them, the better you got at it: soon you could do the more complicated ones with lots more pieces and more challenging pictures (and some of you crazies out there went WAY overboard with your puzzles depicting a fall of pennies or a tipped over bowl of cherries, for goodness sake! — most of the pieces in the main part of the picture all looking the same!). And as the puzzles got more complex, the buzz you got from solving one grew as well

Best of all, in every puzzle there was a key piece — remember that? Remember when you (or someone else) found the key piece — with maybe a dozen or two dozen pieces left to go? When you found it, you knew it, knew you were on the downhill run to finishing the puzzle, mere moments away, and that knowledge must have radiated out to everyone in the house because, even if you didn’t tell anyone, somehow they all knew and would show up at the card table.

Then it was a race to see who could finish it first. But it really didn’t matter, did it? Because regardless of who actually put the last piece in place, you all had a hand in revealing the picture on the box from the pile of pieces it had been when you poured it out. The thrill and smiles and laughter weren’t diluted by the fact that it was shared; in fact, they were increased — and everybody at the table for the placing of the last piece got the same sensation of accomplishment and satisfaction.

It’s the same with anything you want to do in life and don’t know how. At first it’s just a small pile of puzzle pieces, because you’re just starting out and 100 or 250 pieces to put together a country landscape with a buggy and a covered bridge over a stream seems doable, with a little time and concentration. When you do finish that one, maybe you’ll do another small one just to prove to yourself that you can, but eventually you move on to the 500 piece. With time, patience, and determination, you finish that one, and by then you know that you can also complete the 1000 and 1500 piece ones (or even those crazy all pennies or all cherries ones your sister –the nut–loves!).

In life the puzzles are called love, family, relationships, beliefs, career, profession, and any number of others and permutations of each. (For me, right now I have 3 puzzles going, all falling under the career umberella.)

It’s hard to remember, though, once you’re putting together those huge, challenging puzzles how, once, each beautiful or funny or surprising picture that the completed puzzle reveals was just a pile of unconnected puzzle pieces, and you weren’t even sure they were all there. When you’re building your life-puzzles, you forget the serenity you felt, with the box puzzles, in finding the flat edged ones first and building the frame, spreading the rest of the pieces in the center and around the outside of the frame once it was mostly there. Trying this piece here and that one there, and maybe the same one in the same wrong place two or three times.

And for these ones, the life puzzles, mostly, you’re often the only one working on them, and it doesn’t seem to go as quickly or easily. Often the pieces you’ve collected are missing the box with the picture of what it’s supposed to look like when it’s finished on it — so your image of the finished product is fragmented and maybe has holes in here and there and, without the picture, you can’t even show someone else what it’s meant to be when it’s finished. At those points, sometimes, you get discouraged and think you’re never going to find that key piece, never going to be able to solve that particular puzzle, no matter what category it falls under.

Well, I’ve a secret for you. Actually, three: time, patience, and believing.

Remember ~ the puzzles you used to do on the card table were each just a pile of pieces poured out of a box to begin with, and sometimes they were poured out of a bag ’cause the box was lost, but you never pulled the picture from the box or bag fully formed, did you, or even in 4 or 5 big pieces — what fun would that have been?

You also never gave it up (unless spring came and it was suddenly way more fun to be outdoors!) — you might leave it set for days or even weeks, but you always came back to it, and in the end, you always found the key piece that made all the others fall into place. All it took was time, patience, and believing that, sooner or later, you’d find that key piece.

For me, the time and patience thing have always been a problem ~ I’m the kind of person who wants to plant flowers and have to jump back to keep from getting hit in the face by them as they come up out of the ground, spreading their leaves and blossoms and fragrance all around ~ the person who drives just a bit too fast because she’s just a bit impatient with the time it takes to get from where she is to where she wants to be.

But I can, and do, believe. 99.9 % of the time, I believe. That the flowers are going to grow and be beautiful to the scent, sight, touch. That I’ll get where I’m going, and have a great time while I’m there. That I’ll find the key piece to whatever puzzle or puzzles I’ve got “going” in my life. I may be impatient with the time it seems to be taking (and I am, more frequently than I like to admit) ~ but I do believe ~ 99.9% of the time, and I’m working on that other 1%.

I just have to keep reminding myself: If your life puzzles don’t yet look like the pictures in your head, remember that you never took the pictures from the boxes complete. You always started with a pile of seemingly unrelated pieces. You tried almost every piece in many places before you found where it went. But you did find and fit the right pieces together, one or two or three at a time, building fragments here and there, until finally the key piece dropped into its place. After that, you know, success was inevitable.

You have to remember that you’ve probably got several puzzles going at once, so give your pictures time to come together; keep gathering and trying pieces, and when you get frustrated with how long it’s taking (and you will), take a break and practice patience (this from the woman who’s been practicing for years now and still needs the occasional pep talk!). Most of all believe.

Believe that you will find the key piece and that the puzzle you’re currently working on, whatever it is, is one you can and will solve, and so will the other ones be. Recognize the accomplishment when you’ve found where a piece goes and take that dip in the happy-place pool every time you do, and remind yourself of your successes –

That’s the key piece to every life picture: believe. ‘Cause seeing isn’t believing ~ believing is seeing.

Check out this part of one of my puzzle pictures at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *