Imagine, if you will, that four children each receive a brand new jigsaw puzzle as a holiday gift. Each puzzle is in its individually sealed cardboard box, with a picture on the front of the box that resembles what the puzzle should look like once it is all put together. The pictures on the outside of the boxes never match the depth of intensity of the colors, or the texture of the finished masterpieces, but serve as a guide to whomever accepts the challenge of figuring it all out.
One little boy is too busy with other things to even begin to contemplate tackling the puzzle, and stows the unopened box atop the shelf in his closet, where it will remain untouched until he grows up and moves off to college. He pulls the box down, and glancing at it wonders if he would have had any fun in making the attempt, had he done so during all of the years that the puzzle sat unattended and unused. He experiences a momentarily feeling of melancholy and loss that he never put it together.
The second child, a little girl with a lot of enthusiasm, but a limited attention span, immediately breaks open the box with the best of intentions of creating a stunning picture from all of the little pieces, but quickly becomes frustrated with the challenges presented, and abandons the project to her bedroom floor. There, the puppy eats a piece of it, the vacuum cleaner another one, and her little brother crumbles several in his chubby little hands, so that soon there is no hope of the puzzle ever being completed to its fullest. The little girl feels the frustration of her aborted attempt.
The third child, another boy, throws the puzzle aside in disgust, proclaiming that such a task is not cool enough for a little jock such as himself. A couple of days later he takes it out to the trash can, where the garbage collector picks it up and transports it to the landfill later that day. After some time. this boy sees an exact replica of this puzzle that’s been completed and is displayed on a friend’s dining room table. He thinks about how he missed the opportunity to build his own puzzle, which is covered in dirt, filth and garbage at the dump, an irretrievable mess resembling nothing at all of what it was intended to be.
The last little girl, after ripping off the wrapping paper and seeing the potential of the brilliantly colored puzzle, sets out to finish it alone, intent upon displaying the finished item in her room. However, she soon finds that it is some times too difficult for her to do alone, so as her parents, siblings and friends wander past her work area in the next couple of weeks, she is grateful for their helping hands when they pause for a few moments from their busy lives to assist in placing one of the puzzle pieces in its correct spot in the bigger picture. Soon, the puzzle is finished, and its vibrancy is a beautiful thing to behold. Her mother suggests that they apply an adhesive to the puzzle, a glue to keep it from falling apart. Then they frame the cohesive unit and hang it proudly on her bedroom wall for all visitors to see in a place where the girl can proudly be reminded that her hard work, perseverance, and willingness to accept help when needed paid off with a finished product that anyone would be proud to say that they had a hand in.
My Aunt used to love jigsaw puzzles such as this, and could often be found doing them at her dining table. She would happily encourage anyone that happened by to sit for a bit, chat, and participate in its completion. She was never satisfied until she totally finished a puzzle, and would often begin a new one immediately upon completing one. In her later years, beset with Alzheimer’s, her frustration level was very great, and she had to rely more and more on assistance from loved ones until finally they basically had to coach her on where to place a piece. Nonetheless, she continued to work them as hard as she could, as often as she could, for as long as she could.
During the same time frame, when my dear aunt was fighting against time to keep that atrocious disease at bay, I knew another lady in the same age range who possessed good mental acuity, good physical health, and much material possessions. Unlike my aunt, who relished every piece of every puzzle, this lady grew sullen, depressed and bitter when she discovered that the puzzle that represented the overall picture of her life was not going to look exactly as she had hoped it would look. Things had not turned out the ways she wanted. Even though she had a very long and very happy marriage and raised children with the man she considered the love of her life, she decided to discard the rest of the puzzle when he pre-deceased her. It was as if she threw up her hands and said, “Enough! This is too difficult now. I do not want to accept anyone’s help!” (And there were indeed many, many offers of help made to her.) The second woman gave up, became a hermit, and basically died of a broken heart a few years later, akin to the child who gave up on his puzzle in frustration. One will never know exactly how her puzzle would have ended, had she accepted help, and pressed on to the finish. What a lovely piece that may have been. Instead, she will always be remembered for the things she left undone and unsaid.
I used to get angry at people like that – the ones that took their gifts for granted, discarded them, or did not make full use of them. It would especially irritate me when I would think about the people, like my aunt, who would have loved to have had a chance to work more puzzles, talk to more people, make more people laugh, etc. It just did not seem fair to me that some people would throw away their gifts, when others sorely needed them. Or, like the Parable of the Talents in the Bible, how some people would bury theirs, while others would make the best that they could of them.
It does still frustrate me when I ponder how some will squander their most precious gift of all, which is Life itself, on senseless things, or throw away their days to crime, addiction, overmedication, hate, anger, etc. But I now realize that it is really none of my concern.
In the long run, each person’s life is theirs to do with as they choose. Just as a person can go out and make use of a birthday gift, or decide to store it away unused, or neglect it and let it rot out in the elements, or turn it to it very best advantage, we are each free to decide what to do with our lives.
I seldom go to yard sales, but when i do, it still makes me sad to see unopened jigsaw puzzles, sketch pads with blank pages, books with unbroken spines, or clothes with the tags still on, unworn and as new as they were when they were brought home from the store. But I do not get mad. I do not dwell on it. For those were not my gifts to use. I have my very own birthday gift, that was given to me on the dayI was born. I hope to live my life in such a manner that, when it is over, someone will look back and see vibrancy and depth. I hope that they will look at my life and know that, while sometimes it seemed nearly impossible to find the right pieces; sometimes I tried too long to fit the wrong piece in the wrong hole; and sometimes I had to, in frustration, ask for the help of passersby, that nonetheless I stayed the course. I want others to look back and see the finished masterpiece that was “ME!”
I know that this is still a work in progress. I realize that sometimes I try to borrow pieces from someone else’s puzzle, and that never, ever works out right. I recall the MANY times I wanted to just leave it lying on the ground, and go off and forget about it. But I continue to stay the course. I know what I had in my mind’s eye many years ago that I thought the finished puzzle of my life should look like when I reached the end. I have endured times when the look of the puzzle has not really even resembles the picture on the front of the box, which would be that of a Godly woman who loves her family, her country, and the work that has been given her to do. But I am hopefully optimistic that, like a real jigsaw puzzle whose overall appearance seems to wax and wane and change as it progresses and whose pieces sometimes make no sense at all, in the end, the finished product will be much better thanh I ever imagined possible.
Whatever piece of the puzzle you are trying to make sense of, remember that, while it may not appear to fit into the big picture right now, appearances can be deceiving. If the puzzle is getting to be a little too frustrating for you, by all means, ask someone to help you – there is no shame in that, and it makes the task all the more enjoyable. But whatever you do, do not let anyone steal any of your puzzle pieces, and do not quit until the picture is complete.