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The Puzzle

I started a jigsaw puzzle on New Year’s Day. I love the whole process - carefully slitting open the cardboard box, dumping pieces onto the table, and then organizing them by outside pieces and by color/pattern. I always look forward to seeing the pieces come together to make a complete picture. 

I grew up in a home where we had a puzzle going most of the winter. My parents and my aunt and uncle sometimes got together to work on big, complicated images, like a pile of pinecones. They huddled around the kitchen table, mugs of strong coffee in hand, talking, laughing and working together.  

Then when I was a junior in high school I went to Sweden as an exchange student. My host family also liked working puzzles, but they thought it was cheating to use the photo on the box as a reference. I was a guest in their home so I played along with their particularly cruel challenge. The one I remember was a “Where’s Waldo” type of picture, so you can imagine the difficulty. 

Many years later when Houston and I had teenage kids someone gave us a 10,000 piece Coca Cola memorabilia puzzle. I’m pretty sure it took months to complete with our family and friends all pitching in at some point. 

So I guess you could say I’m familiar with puzzles. I enjoy putting them together with others, but I also don’t mind doing one on my own. It turns into a meditative time for me. It was while working mine over the weekend that I began thinking of how closely our lives resemble puzzles.

With my parents and aunt and uncle, I had a front row seat to watch my favorite adults having fun. I believe seeing them model close family relationships had an impact on me and how I interact with other adults, including my own children.

With my Swedish host family, it presented a challenge and helped me get to know them in a way I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. We “played,” and as it turned out, I enjoyed the process of doing something I never would have done on my own.

The enormous Coca Cola puzzle was a group effort of different people working on it at various times. Sometimes it was every day, but at other times it was just one of our kids’ friends stopping by and putting in a piece or two. 

Then there’s the puzzle I recently began. As I neared completion I discovered a piece was missing. What a disappointment. The box had held such promise. And then I realized there was something to learn here as well: I won’t always have all the answers to the things that puzzle me in life, and maybe the “picture” won’t be perfect, but I’ll never know the outcome unless I put in the effort. 

There was nothing more to do but start another puzzle the next day. 

This piece first appeared in Sherry’s column, Finding Myself in a Small Town, in the January 13, 2024 edition of the Corsicana Daily Sun.

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