Puzzled

January 31, 2011

Puzzles are some of my favorite simple pleasures—crossword puzzles and jigsaw puzzles particularly—and my favorite reading genre is the mystery. There’s just something I love about putting things together, figuring things out, not knowing, and then—voila—somehow the pieces come together into a finished puzzle or the knowledge of whodunit.


In doing puzzles, I’m OK with not knowing, at least up to a point. When I get stuck on a crossword clue, I skip it, coming back to it later. If I find I’m skipping a lot of clues, maybe I’ll put the whole puzzle aside for a few hours. When I pick it up again, I almost always do better. The same with a jigsaw puzzle—after trying repeatedly to find an elusive piece, I’ve often come back later only to pick it up and put it straight where it belongs. (Provided my husband and/or son hasn’t hidden the piece from me.)

If I’m reading a mystery that has me stumped, I step back and watch the action without trying to guess the crime’s perpetrator, simply enjoying the writing, the characters and story. Sometimes, the clues I need are just a few pages away (and sometimes I remain stumped).

I find life itself a bit puzzling, don’t you? I only see bits and pieces of the whole, not knowing how choice A will lead to consequence B, which in turn produces outcome C. Some things that seem disastrous often work out to be blessings in disguise—and sometimes the opposite occurs.

I often think of the Chinese parable about the farmer who used an old horse to plow his fields. One day the horse ran away. When his neighbors came to commiserate with the old man, he replied, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?” A few days later, the horse returned, bringing with her a herd of wild horses from the nearby hills. The neighbors returned to congratulate the farmer, who replied, “Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?”

When the farmer’s son was thrown and broke his leg while trying to tame one of the wild horses, the sympathetic neighbors were met once again with “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?”

A few weeks later, the army marched into the village and conscripted all the able-bodied young men…leaving the farmer’s son with his broken leg behind.

It can be hard not knowing. When I’m uncertain about my next step, or facing frustrations of some kind, I should take my cue from my behavior with other puzzles: watch the action and enjoy the mystery, or put it aside for a later time when things somehow clarify themselves. If things seem bad, wait and see what happens next. A setback can become an opportunity, and an opportunity can become a setback. I guess the key is knowing that it all fits together, somehow, into the perfect puzzle of my life.


Have you ever had an experience that initially seemed bad, but turned out to be for the good? Vice versa? What did you take away from the experience?

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16 comments

  1. To my way of thinking there are seeds of bad in all good things that happen and seeds of good in all bad things that happen....it is up to us which we cultivate.

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  2. I agree with Laure - there are seeds of both in every experience... and with Kathy and the story of the farmer - time will tell which is good or bad.

    It seems to me that it is nearly always up to ME in how I choose to see an event. Sometimes stepping back to observe the big picture is all I need to adjust my thinking.

    BTW, I am also a puzzle lover and mystery fan. I recently read a book I enjoyed suggested by a friend "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" by Alan Bradley, with a different take on a crime-solving heroine.

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  3. Laure--excellent point. I couldn't have said it better.

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  4. Elizabeth--I agree, our attitude and how we see things plays a huge part in what we perceive as good and bad.

    I just saw that book advertised this weekend, as a matter of fact. I'll have to look for it.

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  5. Great post! Some things we can't control... but attitude is one we can :-)

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  6. Teresa--This is why I love the comments. I wasn't particularly thinking about attitudes when I wrote this post, but several people have made comments pointed that direction. A good reminder for me!

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  7. I also think that the parable perfectly illustrates the joy of living in the moment. There's no second guessing...no shoulda woulda coulda or worrying about the what ifs...it is just what it is.
    As is a puzzle...it cannot be solved unless one is present.

    (My weakness is cryptic crosswords)

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  8. I love this piece, Kathy. Great writing here. :)

    If it were up to me and my sometimes panicky or pessimistic first instincts (especially when younger) to determine how my life would turn out, based on whatever I first assumed from the various events and situations that arise -- well, let's just say that I am grateful for the mystery.

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  9. Possum--True words--you can't solve a puzzle with your mind off someplace else!

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  10. Thanks for the compliment, Meredith! I'm of similar panicky and pessimistic outlook (which is why I have to make a "deal" about catching happiness), and looking at things as a mystery helps me relax and go with the flow.

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  11. Excellent post Kathy. I love the Chinese parable. It is interesting how things change from good to bad or bad to good with time and more information. I enjoy puzzles too - my current favorites are Sudoku - and I know what you mean about your husband hiding a puzzle piece from you! LOL!! I guess I need to remember the tip of stepping back when life has me puzzled.

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  12. Cheryl--I've never tried Sudoku, though I have several friends who do them.

    When we had cats, I've also had them jump up on the table and knock pieces off. We get so much help when we're trying to do a puzzle sometimes!

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  13. yes, yes, yes, .... I can relate to your reflections here. What I've taken away from situations in my life is that I need to 'loosen my reins' a bit and just 'relax'. However, it is much easier for me to say than do.

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  14. Claire--So true--it's comparatively easy to know what to do...and so much harder to actually DO it.

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  15. ...you are a thinking woman, Kathy! My posts seem so easy compared to yours ("Birds, pretty!" is about all I say!!). It's all so true...good and bad, it all comes together. Great post...

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  16. Thanks, Kelly! I can't take photos or paint like you do, so I have to "use my words" :) I guess we all are different pieces of the puzzle and when we come together, we make a beautiful picture.

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