Life as a Puzzle

As I’ve mentioned, I’m recently on a jigsaw puzzle kick. I’ve been working on them during my afternoon break or before bed. After completing an interesting one that pictured international transportation signs, we moved on to the NYC subway map and then the tree of life. All three of these were 1,000 pieces, but the comparison stops there. The complexity of the images and the difficulty of the puzzles varied greatly. None of them were easy, but the tree of life was by far the most challenging because there was lots of white space, funky-shaped pieces, and similar colors, which made it hard to discern even the general area where a given a piece would end up. The satisfaction upon completion was rightfully greater than for the other two.

These three puzzles are child’s play compared to the National Geographic Bird Migration one we have recently started. The most significant factor contributing to this increased complexity is the fact that the puzzle box cover, which is the only visual of what the finished image should look like, is tiny and blurred far beyond possible legibility. The scale of the image is probably 1:20 of the assembled jigsaw puzzle, and the only thing discernible on the cover is the scattering of many similarly-colored birds. The maps, migration routes, and informative text labels and paragraphs are mere smudges. In the interest of bearing in mind that I’m doing the puzzles wholly for fun, it’s comical. Otherwise, it would simply be a source of frustration!

It’s so slow-going that I started another beautiful one of various fish species on my own to work on interspersed with the bird migration one. It’s a bit more leisurely, which is appealing after most of my recent intensive job assignments. However, yesterday because of the snow storm, Ben was around in the afternoon so I took some time off of work to collaborate on our bird puzzle. I’ve been thinking a lot in metaphors lately for my job, so it’s not surprising to me that I see nearly every activity as a figurative metaphor for some larger elusive idea in my life.

I see yesterday’s puzzle progress as a near perfect metaphor for our relationship. We have a general idea of what we want it to look like, but marriages take a lot of work and time to build. We have the very real added challenge of two vastly different neurologies. Seeing eye-to-eye is often not as intuitive for a blended couple (autistic and neurotypical) than for two “normal” people. This is where the uselessness of the “map” (the puzzle cover) comes in. Other couples might receive a full-size, or at least more legible, map to guide them. Such a cover, like the other puzzles we’ve done, can help get advice or clues to build their relationship and see things come together more easily. It’s like you pick up a piece, turn it around a few times, scan the image, and find where the piece goes, at least in a general sense. Metaphorically, these pieces are like the daily challenges, communication channels, feelings, etc. Solving the issues isn’t flawless, but the path to understand and then correct them is clearer. Ben and I don’t have a workable image or a guidebook from which to pull assistance to help us. It often feels like we are looking at thousands of fragments that we want to assemble into something not just coherent, but also beautiful. Understandably, it can feel overwhelmingly daunting at times, when considering all the layers of complexity that add to our challenges (my trauma history, health problems, sensory stuff, etc.). However, when we both work together, both via active collaboration and parallel companionable silence focused on our own sections (our own selves or issues), so much can come together. It’s amazing how much progress can be made in a seemingly impossible task through persistence, patience, teamwork, and reliance on intuition (if in the absence of much useful resources). When we both work on ourselves and come together, so much progress toward the goal is made. Similarly, when we communicate, bounce ideas off one another, and unite on a section (a problem or facet of our relationship), we make great strides forward that neither could have achieved individually. Over time, this progress can be taken as “wins” and evidence that readily fortifies our efforts, replenishes our motivation to keep working hard, and instills confidence that we can make sense of this daunting jumble and build what we both want together.

Puzzle assembling may be seen as a cheesy metaphor for our relationship, but with the way my mind works, every piece that I can tactilely tap into place actually registers in my brain as progress on intangible goals. Whether working alone on my own puzzle, or one in concept with Ben, I feel a boost of validation and assurance that I’m making steps, bit by bit, decreasing the pile of issues or confusion, and fusing bonds that take our pieces together and smooth them harmoniously toward something more complete and beautiful.

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