I got an unexpected gift last week -a 500-piece puzzle for $14.99. It was not purchased for me personally; my husband stepped by FAO Schwaz Toy store on his way from work, and, since everybody walked out with the nice bag, decided that he wanted one too. He liked the picture and the price, so he walked out with the puzzle. Nobody wanted it, so I claimed it and, despite my better judgment, jumped right in.
I liked the picture too -an oil painting of a Parisian street with the cozy, cobble-stoned street lined up with the trees turning yellow, an outdoor café with the menu handwritten on the blackboard next to the entrance, buildings with flowers on the windows, the stand with movie posters and the sky to die for. I opened the plastic bag with the pieces and tried to strategize. I would do the borders first, then fill in the middle. My younger son came to help. We went through the content of the bag trying to find anything with the flat side and to figure out where it belonged on the picture. The task was tedious, required concentration and attention to details, but pieces fell together eventually, and that was very rewarding. I tried to put my son to bed, but he did not want to leave. I let him skip his before bed reading and stay longer.
The puzzle felt like an unfinished business. It called my name from the farthest room in the house, attracting me like a magnet. I kept coming back to find one more piece, and staying for hours. I abandoned the housework, watching TV, reading; I had to make all the pieces fall into place. At times it looked like the piece matched perfectly – the shape and the colors, but it won’t go in. So I tried another one and another one, until I just gave up, cursed myself for wasting all this time, and promised myself to throw the stupid puzzle in the garbage, so that I won’t see it ever again. Half an hour later I was looking for a piece again, convinced that now it would somehow work. And sure enough, one piece fell into place, and then, before I knew it, the building was complete, than the movie poster stand, and I felt that I was getting somewhere, and the life was worth living.
At some point I realized that it was not about the puzzle anymore. I needed a reassurance that if I tried long and hard, looked for the clues, changed strategy, accepted the failure and started over again, eventually, I would find what I was looking for and make it work. I had to see the piece to fit into the spot, making the image emerge. I could not stop until it happened.
It is a miniature version of a life-cycle of a human. You have this picture in you head of how you want your life to look like. You take the steps to get it accomplished. You go to school, work like a slave, save money, try to please everyone. You think you are doing everything right – the way described in books and shown in the movies, the way your parents taught you, and your friends advised. You see you life starting to shape up, but the last, the crucial piece is still missing. How many wrong pieces you would have to try before it finally falls into place? Will it ever happen? And the picture you so are desperately trying to complete, is that what you truly want? Are you willing to settle for less? Is the end result what really matters?