It’s a good day in our house. I just received a new 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle in the mail. It’s a Star Wars one, a happy conglomeration of posters from the first three movies – images large and small of Luke, Leia, Han, Obi-Wan, Darth Vader, the Death Star, the droids, aliens, light sabers, X-wings, Tie fighters, all the good stuff with no pod racing – everything jumbled up in a large pile of cardboard and dust, all the characters looking for their missing parts. This mess is going to take days to sort out. I can’t wait.
I have been a jigsaw puzzle fan as long as I can remember. As a child, I would do puzzles on my bedroom floor, passing happy hours with fractured pictures of great works of art or famous buildings in Europe, with only the radio for company. When one puzzle was finished, I couldn’t bear to take it apart, so I’d just start another one close by. Eventually, the floor would be wall-to-wall with jigsaws. My mother would have to intervene with pleas for the eradication of dust bunnies. So we’d take everything up. The floor would be clear for a week, and then it would begin again. Me, the radio, and another puzzle to solve.
I think puzzle solving must have run in our family. I remember watching my grandmother piecing a new quilt in her basement in Goshen. The room always smelled of polish and hard work. She specialized in geometric patterns – drunkard’s path, tumbling blocks, log cabin. It took her hours, matching colors and shapes on a grand scale. Then weeks, bent slightly over her quilt frame, needle and thread in hand. Her stitching was perfect – every stitch the same size. And the quilts she pieced, they were marvelous, all the parts intricately locked together in reassuring harmony.
There really is something satisfying about completing a puzzle. When so many things in our world are fissured and confusing, it’s a gift to be able to take something broken and make it whole again. What a very hopeful sensation.
Of course, that drive to bring completion can bring its own temptations, too. A couple years ago, I visited a friend at a local retirement center. He told me about the latest scandal in his building. Residents had been working for weeks on a large jigsaw puzzle in the common meeting room. When they got to the end, there was one piece missing. They searched high and low, to no avail, and went to bed in great dismay. But the next morning, lo and behold, the puzzle was finished. People were outraged. Someone had lifted one piece and kept it back, so that under cover of night they could be the one to finish the project. Investigations finally revealed that it had been one of the cleaning staff who had committed this crime. I have nothing further to say except this: do not mess with a room full of octogenarian puzzle masters. Things get wild.
Over the years, I’ve often found puzzles are not just good therapy, they are also a good meeting point for conversation. Perhaps the indoor version of fishing – an engrossing task with lots of space for silence, and opportunity to say things without looking directly at the other person. I remember one winter doing puzzle after puzzle at our dining room table with Beyonce’s Lemonade booming on the stereo. My daughter and I sat for hours, trying to make sense of life. How much we said out loud, I couldn’t tell you – but we put a lot of things together, both of us.
Puzzles. Whether we’re working things out on our own, sitting quietly looking at the pieces with a loved one, or even hoarding the last piece so we can be the one to finish the picture – it seems all of us are puzzling every day. My latest jigsaw probably won’t solve all the world’s problems, but it does help me feel a little hope that this world won’t stay broken forever. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to work – I’ve got WVPE on in the corner, and this piece looks suspiciously like the droids I was looking for.
Music: "Pick Up the Pieces" by the Average White Band