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Lessons from a Puzzle

My sister-in-law gifted me a 1,000 piece puzzle for Christmas and as I dumped its contents onto the table and put on a Mariah Carey inspired playlist, I wondered when I’d last completed a puzzle. Beyond a puzzle of the United States I’d assisted a 4-year-old with while babysitting, I decided it had been a while. Nevertheless, I was excited to jump in and began searching for my edges.

I suppose I had shared puzzle experiences. There’s a ferry in Washington state that sometimes has puzzles. If you enter the main cabin and sit at one of the tables, you’ll find a half completed puzzle. And on occasions when I took the ferry and wanted to be inside, I would place a few pieces together during the journey. And then there was the puzzle at a friend’s grandfather’s house that we had mindlessly worked on over easy conversation. Shared experiences. A group project.

But this puzzle was different. It immediately felt deeply important, meditative, therapeutic.

At first, it was more about the total joy and accomplishment of finding a piece that worked. “Oh the blog posts I will write about this!” I thought as I matched flowers and eyeglasses and background designs. I knew there was some big metaphor about the simple joy of finding what fits.

But then something happened in the bottom left corner. The entire frame of the puzzle was almost done except for one piece along the bottom edge that would have been all black. I spent what felt like lifetimes looking at every piece in the pile but did not see a single remaining edge piece. And yet, I felt I couldn’t move forward until I’d finished the frame. And so I was stuck.

Finally convinced there were no additional pieces coming, I went back to the corner. Something was wrong. I was doing the puzzle on a table cloth (rookie mistake) and as such didn’t realize that I had all the pieces I needed right in front of me. Between the way the table cloth bunched and shifted and, okay, one misplaced piece, it gave the appearance that there was a piece missing… when in fact everything I needed was already there. It just needed a slight adjustment.

I think it’s really easy to forget that sometimes. To think that if this was different… or if that hadn’t ended that way… or if I could just find one more small thing, everything else would fall into place.

But sometimes we have to go back to the drawing board. To realize that what we assumed was a perfect fit might not actually be working. To be willing to tear things apart in order to build something better. To know there is promise in new beginnings. To make an adjustment that allows us to move forward.

Everything I needed was right there. Everything I needed I already had. It just took a moment of focused energy, a willingness to change what wasn’t working, and a confidence that I could move forward and complete the task… so long as I wasn’t afraid of making temporary messes.

Love always,



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