Walking in Chicago’s Hyde Park early this week (#Lockdown in full swing, but the university emptied of students and the neighborhood so sparsely populated walking was still allowed), I spotted a sign on a neighbour’s front lawn: “Jigsaw Puzzles: Help Yourself.”
By this point, jigsaw puzzles were as hard to get as face masks. I couldn’t believe anyone could be so generous as to give them away for free. But there they were – six or seven of them, laid out neatly on the front porch, just waiting to be snapped up. I selected a 1500 piece Ravensburger with a montage of summer waterfront scenes (every beach was empty of humans, I realized later. There was only one person in the entire puzzle: a lone woman, practicing social distancing, reading a book.)
I grew up with jigsaws (my mother was nuts for them) and I married a man equally passionate. As a child development professional, I know that jigsaws exercise both sides of the brain, strengthen short-term memory, improve visual-spatial reasoning and reduce stress. Friends of mine who have adopted children who have endured severe trauma report that doing jigsaws (no eye contact! everybody focused only on what their hands are doing!) had encouraged conversations and revelations years in therapy might never achieve. There is literally no downside.
Unless you have a secondhand one.
My biggest concern in doing a left-out-on-the porch puzzle from someone else’s home was not that we might get Covid-19 from it but that there might be a piece or two missing. Nothing is quite so disappointing as labouring for days to complete a large jigsaw puzzle (1500 pieces is a commitment!) only to find that it is, in fact, incomplete.
But as we worked away on the puzzle over the next few days – neglecting our laptops and phones in favour of static, unforward-able, non-likeable puzzle pieces – my confidence in our unknown benefactors grew. As we laughed and chatted over a table filled with meaninglessness slowly being shaped into a coherent whole, their kindness and generosity seemed limitless. “This piece is definitely not here,” my son-in-law would say, searching fruitlessly for the string to the hammock or the coconut in the palm tree. “It’s there,” I assured him, more and more convinced of our donors’ integrity. “They’d never give us an incomplete puzzle. They just wouldn’t do that.”
And in the end, I was proved correct. Every single piece was in the box. Nothing was missing. Everything came out all right.
Thank you to our generous neighbors. Give whatever you can. Leave it out on the porch. The right person will come along to claim it and their gratitude will add to the world’s wealth and help us all pass through these difficult, puzzling days.