I noticed recently I was running out of space and things were beginning to overwhelm me; I had a life and a home and yet I felt unsatisfied, like I was full to the brim and there was no room for more.
And so, I decided to have a clear-out. I thought about cleaning the kitchen or even taking a cleaning class so I could learn how to better clean, but none of it felt that appealing, and quite honestly, I’d cleaned the kitchen a million times and it always ends up being dirty again.
And then I found my jigsaw. I say my jigsaw because on it is a picture of me. And it frightened the life out of me.
You see I’d never dared open my jigsaw before. I’d always known it was there of course but there was something about opening the box and discovering how many pieces there were that made me feel quite apprehensive, and there was something strange about its weight that felt too heavy.
It was in a curious box. There was no indication of the number of pieces – although I felt like I had an idea because I’d had it so long although I’d never ventured to guess – and I decided to turn it over to see what was on the back. “Call this number” it said, so I did, and someone answered. I explained as best I could. “I have this box but I’m not sure what’s inside. I’m worried about opening it up because it could have lots of pieces and could be rather complicated and then I found your number on the back of the box. Can you help?” The person on the other end paused before explaining he wasn’t necessarily a jigsaw expert but had a way of helping people think about their jigsaws in different ways. “Well at least they know something about jigsaws” I thought, and we agreed to meet.
So, me and my jigsaw went to meet them, and I told him everything I’ve just told you. I told them I’d decided it was the right time for a clear-out and that was when I’d found my jigsaw. I told him I’d still not opened the box, nor was I sure if I even wanted to (or, even, if I was making too much of a fuss about a stupid jigsaw to start with) but surprisingly, they seemed quite unmoved by the whole thing. Interested, even. “Opening a jigsaw can feel frightening” they said, “and like I said on the phone, what I do is guide you through the disparate parts of your jigsaw; to help you piece it together before we think about a whole.” What I really wanted was someone to open the box and let me know what was inside and how to put it back together but since there didn’t seem to be anyone willing to do that for me, I decided to give this jigsaw guide person a go.
And so, together, we opened my jigsaw. “How do you want to start?” They asked. I wasn’t sure. To be quite honest with you I was rather anxious about what to do first. Tipping it out and sifting through the pieces certainly didn’t feel like it wasn’t going to work, so I took out a piece. As luck would have it, it was a corner. “A good place to start” they said, and I tended to agree. In fact, by the end of that first meeting, we had all four corners. Personally, I was just pleased to have opened the box.
“And so, what next?” I asked the next time we met. “Do I just keep looking for pieces?” “How do you feel about the corners we discovered last time?” They asked. I replied, and this was the truth since I’ve known I’ve had this jigsaw for a while and because after all it’s me on the front, I told them that I’d always known the corners were in there, so I was mostly pleased about opening the box and looking inside. The corners, I said, felt like as good a place to start as any. “Maybe what we should do now is look at the edges” they suggested. This was going to require some digging around but I suppose it made sense, so I began to look in the box. “Aren’t you going to help me look?” I asked as they sat back in their chair. “It’s for you to find the pieces” they replied. “If I sit here I’ll be able to better see how they click together.”
I was a little bit miffed, but I suppose that made sense, and before long I had some edge pieces out of the box. “That piece looks like it might be linked to that piece” they said, pointing at two pieces that looked entirely different to me. But sure enough, they fit. And I began to see a little bit of the picture of me on the front.
Our time together continued, and before long we had all the edges except for some gaps at the top. “Well this is fine” I said. “We’ve opened the box and all that’s happened is I have an open box and some edges and some missing pieces. When am I going to find out where all the other bits fit together, and when am I going to have finished the jigsaw altogether?” They looked back at me and paused. They seemed to be considering their words which I found most annoying. “This is just the beginning” they replied. “Now we think about the rest.”
Well, it wasn’t always easy. Some days I’d go and see them and we’d put together pieces of the picture of me, and some days we’d spend just talking about pieces we’d already found or looking and looking for pieces I couldn’t find. I’d often ask if they could help me look – I mean I was paying them and I could have someone tell me to find the edges at home thank you very much – but they would just sit back and ask me how it felt to be annoyed at them for not finishing the jigsaw for them and actually, once I got my frustrations off my chest, I reluctantly began to see that if I was ever going to do this jigsaw outside of our meetings, I needed to work it out for myself.
Before long, we had quite a few different larger pieces of the inside. I had an edge and then some larger bits, but I couldn’t quite work out how they all fit together. In fact, I wasn’t sure if they did. I began to get frustrated and I guess I was a little sad about my incomplete jigsaw, and there was one section which I just couldn’t get my head around. “That section” I suddenly heard after a long pause “have you tried putting it over there?” And they pointed to a different edge. I guess it was worth a go I thought, and wouldn’t you know it – it fit! Well, I felt ever-so-relieved. In fact, when I looked at it, it made a lot of sense that those pieces fit together, but I guess I’d just never really thought about it that way.
I thought a lot about the jigsaw we were putting together. Quite often, I just wanted to close the box and forget about it (not finishing the jigsaw was a lot easier than finishing it after all) but something inside me told me that I now knew I had all these different pieces of jigsaw and trying to pretend they weren’t there wasn’t going to work. I thought often about what they’d said about looking at it in a different way; how the pieces don’t always fit the way we thought.
The thing is, I knew the picture on the front didn’t tell the whole story. Although the picture was me, I knew there were pieces in that box that were going to be impossible to put together. Sometimes when I saw those pieces, just sitting there indiscriminately and formless in the box, I’d get very angry and scared because I wondered if I’d ever get to the part where we put them together and actually, when I looked at them, I wondered if I really even wanted to. Sometimes, although I’d never tell the person helping me, I wondered why I couldn’t just get on with it like everyone else (as my mother used to say) and not be overthinking my jigsaw in the first place?
Sometimes I’d come to our jigsaw sessions and to be quite honest with you, I didn’t want to talk about my jigsaw at all. “Resistance is part of putting your jigsaw together” they said, “let’s think about the pieces that are on your mind and why they might be stopping you from wanting to get on with the puzzle.” They had a tricky way with words, that was for sure, and sometimes thinking about things in that different way and having them there as my jigsaw observer made me eventually realise I felt better talking about my jigsaw than trying to not talk about it, if that made sense.
And then, one day, I found a piece that made me very sad. I don’t know why it hit me so hard, but it was a piece of me, a piece of my face, and on it it had a mark from an injury I got a long time ago. I remember getting that injury like it was yesterday and I remember how much it hurt, and when I saw that piece I felt like I was getting hurt all over again. I looked to them to see what they’d say, and they did something ever so curious – they asked me what I thought they’d say. This was new and I suddenly found myself lashing out at them. “Why would I come here and pay you to help me with this only for you to tell me that the one thing you do in here you’d now like me to do?!” I angrily asked. I was very pleased with myself for venting. They seemed unmoved. “Indulge me” they replied. I looked at my piece and I looked at the box, the picture of me and I felt sad all over again. “I think you’d say that although this piece reminds me of the past, it’s also a part of me now and although I can’t change the fact I’ve got it, I can know my pain is in the past and it can only hurt me today if I let it.” “Bingo,” they replied.
Well I won’t bore you with the details, but my jigsaw took a long time. Eventually I started to get the hang of the ways jigsaws work and although we weren’t quite finished with the puzzle, it began to feel like it was probably time to try finishing it on my own. I was going to do the rest by myself, I said.
“Look down at what you’ve done and tell me what you see” they said. “I see an unfinished puzzle,” I replied, “there are parts missing, and I’m not even sure we’ve got the edges right because there’s an extra connective piece sticking out over there, and I’m not even sure we’ve got enough left in the box to fill all the gaps.”
“Well that’s the thing with puzzles and that’s what you don’t learn until the end” they replied. “You never really finish and there’ll always be holes and always be pieces to add. We finish today so now I can tell you the biggest lesson of coming to see someone who helps with jigsaws – it’s not about the finishing, it’s about accepting the imperfection of an unfinished puzzle. It’s rarely the perfect picture we have on the box.”
And with that, we parted.