Puzzle pieces

who-in-the-world-am-iMy journey through the words penned on these pages has allowed me to revisit many memories from the past. Some are as recent as last week, others are decades old. The recollections come unfiltered. You can’t choose which ones arrive in your consciousness. When you search the depths of your mind, it does not discriminate. It gives you all it knows. It is a courageous journey to embark upon, uncertain of your final destination. But, it is in allowing ourselves to drift from the safety of the shoreline that we ultimately learn to sail.

There are comforts from my childhood days that conjure up feelings of warmth. The pan of lasagna my mom would faithfully prepare for my birthday each year. The games of eight ball played with my dad and grandfather on the billiards table in our family room. The cozy hearth of our fireplace, flames dancing, logs crackling on a winter afternoon. And the card table situated in the corner of the room, puzzle pieces splayed out across the surface in disarray. The different shades of water in the harbor scene, subtly different from one another, presented a challenge of epic proportions for my twelve year old self. Thirty years later, the challenge remains epic.

pinocchio-puzzleAs I break the box’s seal, my next adventure is set in motion. I deposit the nearly one thousand pieces of various sizes on the work table. The familiar scent of cardboard as I sift through the mound ushers memories from the same process carried out with much smaller and younger hands many years ago. I am seated at the desk with a view of our backyard, dividing my attention between the butterflies alighting on our plants and those of the printed variety on the puzzle pieces in front of me.

The process is so predictable, so methodical. Find all the straight-edged pieces, locate the four corners, and build the border. Work your way from the outside in, slowly assembling the pieces until the final one finds its proper place to complete the picture. It’s somewhat ironic how we construct our own lives in a similar manner. We look to build a frame that encompasses the life we wish to lead. And we slowly fill in the gaps by way of our decisions and life experiences, eventually getting to what’s inside, those elements that ultimately furnish the most important pieces of our own puzzle.

I pick up a piece that I know should fit, but it doesn’t. I randomly select another piece and place it down in a location determined by my subconscious mind. There’s no way it will fit here, says my mind. And yet, it fits perfectly. The satisfaction of grasping a piece and fitting it into its rightful place, it is surprisingly gratifying. The way the subtle curves and sharp corners nestle with the adjacent piece, fitting perfectly together to tell a little more of the story, transforming into a beautiful tapestry. Just like life.

not-in-controlAs I stare at the transition of sky from yellow to violet, I fixate on finding the piece that fits in this one particular location. It is among the several hundred pieces in front of me, I am sure of it. The more determinedly I focus, however, the more fervently the piece eludes me. Mounting frustration and imminent exasperation turn my attention to another part of the puzzle, as far away from this section as possible, as if to chastise these inanimate pieces for being so uncooperative. And in that moment of release, the piece that has been evading me is staring at me, right in front of my face. And I just have to chuckle. Life is like a puzzle without a picture on the box. And maybe it’s the uncertainty of it all that makes the adventure so incredibly endearing, piquing our curious and inquisitive minds. It’s only when we let go of control that we actually gain any semblance of it. It’s another piece of my puzzle that fits perfectly.

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4 thoughts on “Puzzle pieces

  1. apartmentwife April 23, 2014 / 5:15 pm

    “it’s only when we let go of control that we actually gain any semblance of it” seems to be the theme of my week – i just read a similar passage in ‘speaking of faith’ by krista tippett where she quotes bonhoeffer, “im still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only be living completely in this world that ones learns to have faith … i mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities.”

    • davecenker April 30, 2014 / 8:52 am

      It’s amazing how the books we read speak the message we need to hear the most in a slightly more audible tone, just a bit louder so that our minds open up to the voice we need to hear. Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful insights.

  2. Marquita Herald (@marquitaherald) April 26, 2014 / 7:28 am

    Your lovely article as certainly invoked a few memories for me Dave – things i haven’t done since a kid, like assembling one of those jigsaw puzzles and Grandma’s divinity fudge … mean spirited hateful woman, but she really aced that divinity fudge and i haven’t had any since she passed, no doubt heading far, f-a-r to the south. Anyway, I love your analogy of letting go. I’ve found the same approach works well when I’m writing. Sometimes I just get too close to a piece so it helps to set it aside for short periods so I can come back and look at it with fresh eyes.

    • davecenker April 30, 2014 / 8:54 am

      I also agree with you about the analogy to writing. I often find that setting pieces of writing aside (whether completed or in progress) for a short period of time allows me to come back with a renewed and fresh perspective on my original thoughts. Thank you Marty, as always, for your thoughtful insights 😉

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