Working Toward the Center


I’ve liked doing jigsaw puzzles since I was a little girl, maybe because I was a strange, solitary child who preferred playing alone; maybe because I was shy and uncoordinated and not good at tag or dodgeball; maybe because it gave me a sense of power and accomplishment to be able to manipulate little pieces of cardboard into a picture that meant something and was beautiful into the bargain.

In a lot of ways life seems like a giant jigsaw puzzle to me, one with 25,000 tiny pieces and the picture on the box missing.  I know the basic parameters – four corners, find the straight edges and build the frame first.  That much I’ve managed, by the grace of God and with a lot of help, in 45 years.  I know what my foundational values are, what beliefs make up the framework and structure of my life.

Now I’m in the process of filling in the outlined space, working toward the center.  I have some idea, based on the colors and shapes I can discern, what the finished picture may look like, but there are some pieces that don’t match the pattern I have in mind, and I can’t imagine how they are going to fit.

I’m generally not half bad at working puzzles.  I have a knack for seeing connections; sometimes I can tell at first glance which piece comes next in a section under construction.  But there are also times when I’m completely stumped, and the only way to proceed is by trial and error – pick up a piece that looks like it might work, try it this way, turn it around and try it that way, discard it and pick up the next piece that looks likely, repeat until something snaps in place.

Even this method isn’t foolproof.  Once in a while I get a piece that is the same color as the ones I’ve already put together, and it seems to be shaped properly to fit the space, but when I try to connect it something just isn’t quite right.  There’s a minute gap where there shouldn’t be, or a slant that’s a few degrees off, or some bit that juts out into an area where it clearly doesn’t belong.

Occasionally, the misfit is virtually imperceptible, and I don’t recognize it until some time down the line, when the initial shift away from true has sent everything else askew.  Then the only thing to be done is take apart the pieces that were built onto the false connection and set them aside to be worked in again later at the proper time and place.  Pushing forward without correcting the error, forcing unnatural conjunctions, only results in distortion and damage.

Some days the process is very frustrating, and I just want to throw out the pieces that don’t seem to fit, or quit working on it altogether.  But a still, small voice encourages me not to give up, that it will all come together someday, to keep working toward the center bit by bit.