Puzzles as Metaphors of Life

I have always enjoyed building puzzles and model airplanes as a hobby. To date, I have built close to twenty puzzles of all sizes and topics. I have a picture of the Grand Canyon in my old bedroom at my parents’ house. I bought that as a souvenir from visiting there in Dec 2013. It’s a panorama – more wide that it is tall. I have two rather “controversial ones” – they depict scenes from the Confederacy. Complain all you want, but I am rather proud since I’m partially color blind. That makes building puzzles a double challenge.

Recently, perhaps to pass the time during the pandemic, I bought a Lord of the Rings theme puzzle and finished it in about 10 days. This particular one has sections and numbers at the back which helped. Here is the progression from start to finish.

Then my brother decided to build one too, even though this is not his major hobby. He just liked the image and bought it. Because of the global economic slow down, he ordered his in March 2020 and did not arrive until almost 3 months later. That was strange because we had ordered around the same time. We didn’t start working on it until after Christmas when he had several days off work. Here is the complete puzzle.

Now I have third one – a picture of the Reynolds Club and Mitchell Tower at the University of Chicago. That was a bonus for alumni who donated money. Being a sucker for puzzles, I gave money and got the puzzle. I’m not yet done.

What have I learned?


If you don’t succeed, try another piece. More often than not, I have to sift through literally hundreds of pieces. I might get lucky and find a handful that were stuck together because they were improperly cut or two pieces were close by. This is probably why it took 10 days to finish a puzzle, besides work, life, family, and church. No one gives up after matching 30 pieces in a 750 piece puzzle.

Isn’t that also life? No one gives up after some difficulties and roadblocks. Losing a spouse or a child or having a chronic illness is painful. I am not diminishing or downplaying it; far from it. All the pain we are experiencing is real. However, life moves on. We find ways to cope and continue to live even with the pain. Don’t lose hope.

Trial and Error

Trial and error is very close to persistence. There are plenty of puzzle pieces that look “close enough” but when I try to fit them together, they don’t fit: wrong shade, wrong shape, or wrong alignment. The wrong ones are placed in a different area so that I don’t make the same mistake twice.

Life is the same – at least in certain areas. Perhaps the person who epitomized this notion was President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln’s story is well known – lawyer, Congressman, and then President. What people also remember were also his failures – his love life, his militia captaincy, and the failed Senatorial bid. Lincoln never gave up on anything until he succeeded. This is probably why we have so many memorials to the great man: on a coin, a warship, a Memorial, and on the face of the mountain.

However, there are some exceptions to the “trial and error” method of thinking. For example, jobs and marriages; don’t flit from job to job or relationships. This becomes a question of loyalty and commitment.

Success begat success

Once I finish a puzzle, I want to try another. Maybe not immediately, but perhaps in a year or two, I will look for another one. Sometimes I find one at a thrift store. Other times, my mom finds one and buys one for the two of us to work together.

As a life lesson, I have seen how true it is. Whenever I look back on past successes and even failures, I use it to remind myself that I can do it. I have taken some of the hardest tests in the world and everything else after that is a piece of cake. Same with physical challenges; if I climb a 30 foot tree/rock wall and ring that bell, I have confidence to tackle lesser challenges.

Some of these principles are “well duh,” but how often we practice them?
How often do we quit too early?
How are we afraid of error that we don’t even try?
How often do we forget our successes and fixate on our failures?

The next time you see a puzzle, either hanging on a wall or for sale, remember that your life is full of trial and error, persistence, and the good feelings of success.

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