Instructions for Doing a Puzzle

It is Sunday afternoon and rainy. I come home to the lamps on and my roommate at the living room table doing a puzzle.

Wow, I say. The puzzle is big, one-thousand little pieces that, when pieced together, will be a dazzlingly complex New Yorker cover. Already, she’s got the border down.

I don’t know how you do it, I say from the kitchen.

Piece by piece, she says from the living room. It’s the only way to do it.

My roommate’s eyes are down on the puzzle that is slowly emerging under her hands. Her fingers move and remove pieces. She is patient, almost tender with them. And I think that this must be a good way to be with any dazzlingly complex thing. Patient and tender, taking it piece by piece.

It really helps to step away from it, too, my roommate adds. I always see more when I come back.

Huh, I say from the kitchen. I watch her. She is surrounded by a crowd of unassembled pieces. But her eyes, her hands, her focus go to individual pieces, which she places and replaces, turns or returns.

I leave to get groceries. When I come back, the lamps are off and the puzzle sits on the table, a little further along than when I left. She will return to it later, adding one piece, then another and another. And this is how she will finish the whole dazzlingly complex thing.

So, courtesy of my roommate, instructions for doing a puzzle, any kind: Take it piece by piece. Be tender, be patient. Step away. Come back.

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