I worked on this puzzle for over a month. Others followed: “Le Jardin de Giverny” by Claude Monet and “La Danse à l’Opéra de Paris” by Edgar Degas, each a meditative distraction with an image that propelled me beyond the confines of my bedroom.
The puzzle was absorbing, yes, but it also allowed me to be present and disconnected at the same time. Immersion in my puzzle meant an escape from my body when my body was in pain. While my meds knocked me out, putting shapes together kept me awake, active, and engaged – in a way – with my life. Like Leonardo da Vinci’s sfumato technique, which blurred hard lines, the outlines of my days, weeks and months softened. Because the weather was busy, I could bear its passage. Most importantly, confusing felt like progress. Little by little, I was heading towards something, even if it was only the completion of a painting.
In the years following my accident, I looked forward to resuming a more active life. I wanted to go to my job. I wanted to walk. And I wanted to dance!
Although I never gave up on the puzzle, more often than not I found myself alone. After my marriage, my husband did not share my obsession. He would sometimes find me hunched over a puzzle in the wee hours of the morning. In one hand I held our colicky baby. With the other, I sorted pieces.
Of course, the puzzle is different from real life. A puzzle always has a solution, a perfect fit. A puzzle is stable, while life is not.
Yet I sat at home, connecting one room to another, as a flower, a star or a face emerged. Even though I couldn’t quite imagine what the final image would look like when finished, putting together puzzles made me believe that with so much uncertainty, a new image would form.
Puzzling helped me through dark times. It eased my mind and helped me see connections where I couldn’t before. It helped me solve problems, even if the solution to a dilemma was dissolution. In the midst of my divorce, when I felt like my whole life was falling apart, I took on a challenge once given to Queen Elizabeth II of England: to piece together a puzzle without looking at the picture as a guide. .