For Christmas my younger son, Gregory, gave me a 2000-piece Ravensburger jigsaw puzzle of Cinque Terre, on the Italian Riviera. I do love jigsaw puzzles, and the Ravensburger puzzles are the nicest of all, with beautifully constructed pieces that interlock with a satisfying tiny click each time one of them snaps into place. And I love Italy and so loved the thought of spending Christmas break constructing a picture of such a beautiful place.
But 2000 pieces? I have a VERY small house. The card table was measured and pronounced too small for the task. The only available surface was the kitchen/dining table, that is to say, we would have to eat all of our meals for the foreseeable future on our laps in the living room. And did I mention that it had 2000 pieces? That is so many! And so much of the puzzle was a rocky cliff, and even more of it was the endless blue sky and endless blue sea. When I mentioned this to my sister, she said that the song lyric "Nothing but blue skies do I see" is NOT a happy prospect for jigsaw-puzzle-doers.
We got the border done on Christmas afternoon, and it took FOREVER. We toiled for many hours more and assembled two or three of the most colorful houses (there were a few dozen of them, total).
"Gregory," I told him, "we aren't going to be able to do this. It just isn't possible, given that we don't have a dedicated puzzle table, and we have only week before I go back to Indiana, and I have a few other things I have to do during that week, like live the rest of my life. I love my present, really I do, but we just aren't going to be able to do it."
"Aren't we even going to TRY?" he asked.
So we did. We finished the houses, and the sky, and the shrubbery on the cliffs, and then we turned to the cliffs. We told ourselves that maybe, once we finished every single interesting part of the puzzle, we'd call it done and just forget about the sea. But then once the cliffs were done, we couldn't bear to see that gaping hole where the sea should be. On we pressed. Sometimes, when the light was just right (late morning), I could put in five pieces in a row. But more often it would take me five minutes to put in one piece. I put together puzzle pieces all night long, in my dreams.
But guess what? This morning, at quarter to ten (when the light was PERFECT), I put in the last piece. It took me five days to do a job that had seemed absolutely impossible when I began.
Of course, it is irresistible to draw a few brief life lessons at this point.
1) Some tasks that seem impossible don't turn out to be.
2) In fact, some "impossible" tasks can be done in just a few days of concerted effort.
3) It's easier to do daunting tasks when you have help, and more fun to do them when you have company.
4) Even a very big task can be completed by a diligent, patient, persistent series of very small tasks, executed one at a time.