Puzzling and unpuzzling

It took me nine months to finish the puzzle. This seems about right as puzzling goes for me. I refuse to impose deadlines or quantitative expectations, content to set four or five pieces in place in one sitting. Sometimes even one piece provides peace of mind.

When I started Van Gogh’s Starry Night, I quickly realized I needed a release clause: permission to walk away after 10 minutes if I sensed thunder roiling up inside me, threatening to obliterate everything. I walked away a lot, sometimes not coming back for weeks.

In time, though, I finished the puzzle. Then, for several weeks, I left it in place, admiring both its beauty and my accomplishment.

I also wondered what to do with it next, having no compulsion to frame it. For me, puzzles are more activity than art. I make them because they they require something from me – concentration, time, determination. In return, I am rewarded with the pleasure of clarity; of seeing so many pieces join together, creating an image that is not only beautiful, it’s orderly. Peaceful.

Eventually, I decided to deconstruct, scrambling one blazing star after another, trading hues of yellow, blue and white for beige. Scooping up the pieces, I dropped them by handfuls into puzzle box and closed the lid.

I thought the process would be heart-breaking. Instead it was satisfying. And surprising.

It was so easy, nudging the pieces away from each other. And once I’d begun, everything collapsed so quickly. Nine months of puzzling was undone in less than nine minutes.

And as I deconstructed, I thought about how much of life is like a puzzle. Faith, relationships, decisions (both the simple and complex) rarely take shape without effort and, perhaps, a bit of luck.

Much searching and many false starts are required before the stars align. Then, exhilaration powers momentum. A puzzle is solved.

But just as quickly, it can all become undone. Which might be fine for puzzles. For the bigger stuff of life, not so much.