By Nancy Jo Eckerson
Every winter I pass the dark, snow-laden evenings, hour after hour, working on puzzles. I find great joy in having this game to turn to when the weather entices me to stay in and stay warm.
This year, for the first time, I treated myself to a 1,000-count puzzle. Ugh! What a mistake. Or was it?
I learned a great deal about myself and this crazy obsession that comes with the season.
A few weeks ago, I finally finished the puzzle, and I am so pleased. It is really beautiful – a summer scene by a lake, with two magnificent mahogany powerboats, two Adirondack chairs and several cozy, amber-lit cottages, aglow in the dusk of evening.
The sky is laced with the purples, pinks, yellows and blues of a newly setting sun, and eagles soar or majestically stand posed among the evergreens.
But what a process I went through to get this done. I cannot tell you how many times I felt overwhelmed with the scope of this project.
Frustration set in from the start, and only determination could force me to continue and take the game, well, like a game.
There were days when it was actually fun. I distinctly remember smiling smugly when the 300th solid-blue-sky piece fit perfectly in its place.
But a lot of days, I fretted and fought with this puzzle. The temptation to give up and just chuck the whole thing reared its ugly head a few times.
Then, just as I would place a final piece to make the dock complete, or add the last touch to one of the boats, I would decide that maybe there was hope after all.
Either this puzzle or I was going to win. Some days, I was determined it would be me; some days, I wasn’t.
There were hundreds of tiny victories along the way, but some of them were hard-won.
I had searched ad nauseam for the last shape to finish off the tallest pine tree until a sinking feeling washed over me. What if the manufacturer didn’t prize precision while packing the pieces? I pictured the factory floor, a mass of missing pieces, mine included!
Then self-doubting hopped into the picture. What if I had dropped a piece, just before I ran the vacuum two days ago?
Pine tree after pine tree, I struggled, winning short reprieves of satisfaction and joy.
That sinister doubt would stab at me again and again. Even when I got down to the last five pieces and the gaping hole where they were to fit, I was sure that it would never work out. I feared, at piece number 995, all of my efforts were going to be for naught.
But, one by one, they fit, and placing the last shape, my shoulders dropped while a sweet smile swept across my face.
Yes, the puzzle was done – complete – in its entirety, and in a nanosecond, the next quandary evolved: What to do with it now? Glue it? Mount it on a board? Break it down?
In the end, as I broke up the pieces. I must confess, I wish I had allowed myself to enjoy the whole process more.
And isn’t that just like life? I have fretted and worried my way through some days, and basked in a playful light at other times. I have had my paranoid moments when I felt the world was against me, and I have had tons of victories, too.
And the one thing I can guarantee you is this: I wish I had allowed myself to enjoy it all more!