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?