Seeing the World

This morning I stood near the kitchen table looking out the window and saw a streak of gold outlining the front of the yard. The sun was coming up, and I watched as the strip of highlighted brown grass grew bolder and wider. Not long after, it was no longer golden but was the regular color of daylight filtered with shadows from tree branches.

I’m seeing the world in a different way these days, thanks to a winter spent working jigsaw puzzles.

Our son Morgan had room for Jimmie’s pool table, the heavy slate type bought from an old pool hall over fifty years ago. Now that it’s installed at his house, I brought my round oak table in from the shed and put it in that spot in our family room. I have a place to keep a jigsaw puzzle out for weeks at a time as I put in a piece or two now and then. Of course, when I stop by the table to put in a couple pieces, I find a half hour has elapsed as I focus on shapes and variations of color.

Docs now say that working a jigsaw puzzle is great exercise for the mind. It’s better defense against dementia than crosswords and code deciphering puzzles because you must look at each piece and discern trace distinctions in color and match shapes to holes, which is new learning versus recalling vocabulary. I guess I’ll buy into that since I like jigsaw puzzles.

But I draw the line at puzzles that are too hard. I do it for fun, and I like a challenge, but not work and hard concentration. I’ve found that 500 pieces are ideal. One-thousand pieces are too much for me, and they take up too much space on my table and extend over the uneven place where the two halves of the table come together.

Many times in my life I have held up my hands with my thumb tips touching to form a three-sided frame and looked at a nature scene, deciding if it would make a good jigsaw puzzle. Now I do that more frequently as I notice fine details. For instance, I’m seeing various shades of green in the yard as the grass comes back to life. I want to look closer at nature and at manmade objects, which also make good puzzles.

But people don’t make good jigsaw puzzles. We don’t need to look for lined faces or flaws in complexions that would show up in puzzle pieces. We make snap decisions about people we meet, within fractions of a second scientists tell us, based on characteristics we’re not even consciously aware of. Our primitive brains react to smiles, posture, and eyes, looking for clues to morality, warmth, and competence. We don’t need to dwell on wrinkles and blemishes. We do enough of that when looking in the mirror.

For people I know, I just need recognition, not detailed analysis.

I want to be a person who “can’t see the forest for the trees.” Oh, I really want both, to see the big picture in life and all the little details, too.