Exactly four weeks have passed since my second open and fifth lifetime heart surgery.
Today was a damn good day.
I slept in, got acupuncture and spent the afternoon in the park with my dog. Sherman wore his finest fur coat but I, a simple tank top; the only thing oppressive about Denver’s current winter is its warmth.
I received a package of fine cheeses and Royal Verano Pears. Later a friend delivered dinner: corned beef sandwiched between latkes. For the first time since last fall, I unrolled my yoga mat and attempted to stretch. Though I can do little more than sit and breathe, I could not help but reward my efforts with a bottle of champagne.
Yet the highlight of my day had nothing to do with the above exploits and little to do with surviving the most hellish, traumatic and horrible month of my entire life. The crowning achievement of my day was completing the puzzle I started after arriving home from the hospital.
I placed the final piece of 999 others in with the satisfaction of a mollusk that kept its pearl from an eager hunter. It was in that moment of relief and elation that I realized we can all learn a life lesson or two from Professor J. Igsaw Puzzle.
When I started the puzzle, there was no end in sight. A thousand jumbled pieces were strewn before me. I had no idea where to begin and no sense of when or how or where it would end. I could only take it one piece, one step, one choice at a time. Perhaps I could have connected pieces in another order, moved in the opposite direction or made a different choice on how to proceed. Either way the puzzle ended as a work of art, messy in its creation and with no mind to how it could have, should have or might have otherwise been completed.
There is always just one next step.
As the puzzle took shape there were several pieces that seemed painfully obvious. It’s hard to miss a distinct edge piece or a piece of unique color, shape or design. I searched for these pieces with fervor and devotion. When I failed to find them, I interrogated my dog about their whereabouts and repeatedly searched the floor. I was stuck on missing and unavailable pieces, pieces I figured without which the puzzle could not possibly progress. I wasted time lamenting these missing pieces rather than focusing on the pieces available to me. I had to let go. I had to move on. There were other pieces to explore.
Missing pieces will not be found until they are no longer looked for.
While puzzling, I found the look of certain pieces misleading. It was easy to miss the shades and intricacies, the gradations and details and the distinctions and refinements of individual pieces. I had to discard my predetermined notions of what the pieces should look like in order to see the pieces for what they really were. And the pieces I tried to force? To make work in spaces they were not meant for? As useless and unsatisfying as Vaseline on a sandwich.
There is no use for anything that “almost” fits in a well put-together life.
When working on a section of trees comprised of 158 pieces nearly identical in shape and color, I thought about burning down my apartment just to get away from the puzzle and its evil maker. I would like to say that the puzzle got easier as I progressed. It did not. And the frustration was gratifying in a most unexpected way. Puzzle imitating life.
The journey to uncover, to discover, to connect and to create, is a maddening one. It is full of jumbled pieces, strewn about, and the temptation to get stuck on what is missing. The journey to seek, to strive and to thrive is full of misconceptions, deceit and things that are close but not quite right.
And no matter how we find our way to the end, of a puzzle, of a relationship, of a journey, of a life, we can only hope we have celebrated each little piece along the way. We can only have gratitude for the things that fit and move on from the things that do not. We need not obsess over how much is yet to be done or how what is done was done.
For even as the pieces of a puzzle sit untidy in a box or convene in chaos upon a tabletop, the puzzle is complete. All the pieces already exist. One need only remember that the point of a puzzle is not to finish it, but to love and learn peace by piece.