puzzling

I’ve always loved puzzles. Mystery, intrigue, figuring out the answer, creating order out of chaos. Particularly in adulthood I’ve become a fan of jigsaw puzzles. And for a long time, the harder the better.

The largest one I’ve done so far is 4000 pieces. I have a 9000 piece one that I have yet to tackle because, even with both leaves inserted, our dining room table is still too small. But as I’ve gotten older, and I require those dreaded reading glasses, and with homeschooling and parenting and a busy life, I often now turn to easier puzzles, more manageable ones I can complete in fewer days. A 500 piece puzzle isn’t much of a challenge. I can usually finish one in about a day, even with all the distractions of regular life. One thousand pieces is usually more my pace, enough of a challenge to stimulate, but not so overwhelming it can’t be done with the pockets of time I have to work on it. Granted, the design does contribute to the difficulty level, but by now I can look at the cover art and know about how much effort putting together a puzzle will take.

Part of the appeal of puzzles for me is creating order out of disorder. Making sense of something that when dumped out of the box is insensible. As my fingers organize and turn the pieces into a complete picture, my mind is able to sort through some of its own chaos, focus on thoughts set adrift through the course of the day. It gives me opportunity to ponder, to let my mind wander down whatever rabbit trails left uninvestigated because my brain has been so busy otherwise with school tasks and dinner plans and shopping lists and home care and on and on.

As I lay in bed last night trying, unsuccessfully, to fall asleep, I thought about a puzzle I had just finished. It was a gift from my father-in-law that he found at a flea market or antique mall somewhere along the way on his adventures. The pieces smell of aged perfume and musty market stalls even though the box was still wrapped tightly in its original plastic and I wonder what adventures it has taken before reaching me.

On the box cover, underneath indiscernible letters, appear the English words “Moscow Subway Map.” Each train line shows a different color on a gridded background. Each stop is noted in what I assume is the Russian language, a language I don’t know, which posed its own challenge as I pieced this puzzle together. I often couldn’t tell if the letters on a piece were upside down or not with the unrecognizable characters. And I couldn’t always tell if a word was complete as each one was foreign to me.

How much harder it was to complete this puzzle not knowing the language or some of the alphabet. Imagine trying to piece together a picture of a giraffe, or perhaps hot air balloons, when you’ve never seen either and have no concept of their shape or size. Sometimes life feels a lot like that, being pieced together one section at a time to form a picture we can’t quite see or understand completely yet.

I like to think that doing puzzles is good exercise not only for my brain, but for my heart as well. Puzzles relax me, give me space to breathe, to think. And ultimately, they allow me to create a bit order in my otherwise busy and often messy days. Something I believe is worth the investment.

grace for each moment, one moment at a time

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