Tuesday, December 31, 2013


I grew up in a family of puzzlers.Wherever two or three are gathered during the Christmas holidays you will likely see a jigsaw puzzle in progress. Hours are spent assembling the picture and bonus points are given for complexity.

My Aunt Becky is the Master Puzzler, picking out the most intricate, detailed pictures with the most and often oddly shaped pieces, accumulating a great collection of her own over the years. She has now begun to pass along the best of these to the rest of us to enjoy. The most challenging one I recall was a transparent lucite puzzle that included straight pieces in the middle, not just on the edges. You didn't know if a piece was part of the edge or the middle or even if it was upside down or right side up.

This year my family received from Aunt Becky a 1,000 piece puzzle with a picture of a giant, multi-layered hamburger. It looked delicious, but we soon discovered its particular challenges. Did that green piece belong to the lettuce on the bottom layer or the third layer? Was that red one part of the tomato on the second layer or the slice of bacon on the top? That yellowish brown piece might be part of the bun but was it the top, middle or bottom – or maybe a piece of cheese. It didn't help that the missing piece often turned out to be two or three oddly shaped pieces instead. It took about 4 days but we got it done.

As I spent hours pouring over the pile of pieces, making myself take time out from the usual routine, a few life lessons began to surface. I'm listing them here, in no particular order.

It takes many pieces to make the whole picture. And it wouldn't be complete if even a single one was missing.

Whether you're talking about an extended family or about the larger picture of your life, every piece has it's place. The shadows help us appreciate the highlights.

Small things can make a big difference.

Subtle color shadings or contours determine whether a piece is the one you need or just another one on the pile. Similarities in color or shape do not always guarantee a good fit.

Get help when you need it.

In life, as in jigsaw puzzles, we need each other. We can do more together than we can separately. Even when the progress seems slow, the journey is better because we're not alone.

Proximity can lead to unexpected conversations.

Just by being there, bending over the table, scrutinizing the pile of puzzle pieces, we may find ourselves talking about things we might never have brought up in the usual hustle and bustle of the holidays. Family memories are shared, details filled in about stories we thought we already knew, words of encouragement shared that we never realized were needed. Relationships can be reinforced in these “Oh, by the way...” moments, just because we were there.

Be patient.

Piece by piece, the picture becomes clear. Don't give up or you might miss it. When the picture begins to appear we can become too eager. But if we rush to fill in all the blanks too quickly something vital may be overlooked.

Last, but by no means least....

You know the missing piece is right in front of you. It just doesn't look the way you expected.

Let's hope we keep our minds and hearts open so we may find our missing pieces this new year, even when they come in unexpected ways.