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Putting the Pieces Together

By Amanda Poppei

"Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry."
—Richard P. Feynman, physicist

I love jigsaw puzzles. I love that moment of satisfaction when you finally find the fourth corner piece, and the smooth feel of the completed puzzle under your hand. But what I love most is seeing the picture emerge. How many times have I stared at the original mess of pieces — jumbled, upside down, totally disorganized — and then, little by little, noticed the patterns? Ah, these are all the boat because look, there's the same blue. These — which looked brown — must be the pier, and those tan pieces must be the tree trunk. And how could I have missed the texture on these green ones, which are clearly the leaves!

Life has often felt to me like a jigsaw puzzle… or really, like the mess of pieces when you first dump out the box. When I've been faced with multiple decisions at the same time, it's felt as though I'm not sure which piece to fit in first. Little by little, I try piece after piece until one clicks. Then I can recognize the pieces that might fit around it, and eventually the pattern emerges — not just in the picture I’m creating, but in the mess of pieces I have still to pick up.

Of course, jigsaw puzzles are for weekends away and snowed-in vacations. The times when I've really struggled, it hasn't felt relaxing at all. Years ago, I was trying to decide whether to leave town for a school that was the right fit, or stay in town for a new partner who I thought might be The One. Then again, he might not be. I wasn't at all sure what the picture would look like in either scenario, but it felt like a decision that would change the course of my life. (It was, actually.) For weeks, I agonized over making the right decision: if only I could go twenty years in the future, I thought, to see how each choice turned out. If only I knew my choice were the right one.

The truth is that in real life, we can't see the photo on the cover of the box; we can only place the pieces, one by one, and see what kind of picture we create. Sometimes we turn out to have chosen the wrong piece; the fit isn't right. Sometimes the picture is wildly unexpected.

I’ve learned to stay present to the slow work of sorting — and for that, I need the reminder of my jigsaw puzzles: the just world that seems totally out of grasp until, little by little, advances are made… the mess of a life that appears to have no resolution until, little by little, a new possibility of healing emerges… the path forward that’s unimaginable, until it's not. So I'll keep sorting, and finding the corners, and waiting for the picture to emerge.


Prayer
Spirit of Life, show us the patterns. Allow us to notice the pictures, the paths, the ways forward. Remind us that the wrong piece, once placed, can still be changed. And help us to sit in the sorting, piece by piece, as you weave through the puzzle of life.

About the Author

Amanda Poppei

Rev. Amanda Poppei is a Unitarian Universalist minister serving as clergy at the Washington Ethical Society, a humanist congregation with roots in the Ethical Culture movement (which is also affiliated with the UUA). She lives in Maryland with her husband, Peter, and their two children....

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A close up of jigsaw puzzle pieces scattered across a table, and two people's hands sorting those pieces.

Audio Version of "Putting the Pieces Together"

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