Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Jigsaw Puzzles and the Legacy of Terry Fox

After four months, countless hours, several beers and an almost immeasurable amount of frustration I have finally finished my masterpiece. Yes, as the picture clearly shows I have singlehandedly completed a 3,000 piece jigsaw puzzle. For those of you who want a sense of scale the puzzle is 32 inches by 48 inches and is sitting on a poster board that is meant to be used to create a 3 panel grade school science fair presentation. The reason it is on a board on the floor of my apartment is because the dimensions of the puzzle are technically larger than the dimensions of my dining room table. I’m not kidding when I say that this thing is intense.

This is easily the toughest jigsaw puzzle that I’ve ever built. As you can kind of see this is based off of a painting and consists mainly of sea and sky. To be honest, the sea and the sky were the easy parts. The boats were just hell to complete as everything was just one mass of brown. I probably worked on this a little bit every day that I was home and there were nights where just finding a few pieces that fit were a victory.

The big question here is why in the world would I do such a thing? Given that there is so much going on in my life why would I focus on a jigsaw puzzle of all things? Well, that answer is a lot more complicated, a lot more meaningful and hopefully a lot more interesting than you would think.

For one thing doing this was one of my New Year’s Resolutions and has been a goal of mine for a rather long while. So in a sense I did this because I had set a goal for myself and wanted to achieve it. That doesn’t explain why I did it over the summer though. That is because I have really been using this puzzle as a kind of therapy. As some people know I suffered a great loss this spring and needed to do something to occupy my mind as I worked through everything. It is strange in how my mind works in that sometimes the best way for me to analyze a situation or to handle a stressful event is to do something with complete focus that has nothing to do with the issue at hand. Somehow by doing so my subconscious gets to put its full energy on the problem. And I have to say that I felt a weight lifted from me when I completed the puzzle. The first thing that came to my head when I put in the last piece was Jeff saying “I did it!” when he finished a puzzle we worked on together. That seemed to make much of the past few months make much more sense.

There is one more reason behind it and to do so I am going to have to make a really odd connection here in the sense that my jigsaw puzzle abilities pale in comparison to the following. Tonight ESPN is doing a story on Terry Fox, one of my heroes, as part of their 30 for 30 series. Outside of Canada most people don’t know who he was but I remember as a kid watching the HBO movie on his life story. When Terry Fox was 17 years old he lost part of his right leg to cancer. When he was 20 he set off to run across Canada in order to raise money for cancer research. This was in 1980 so his prosthetic leg was primitive by today’s standards. It was more of a hobble and a lurch than a run. But he ran, into the wind, for 26 miles every day. Each day was a marathon on one leg, each day was his personal challenge, each day was his hope that this would help others to succeed against the disease that had put him through absolute hell. In the 143 days that he ran he completed 3,339 miles until he was forced to stop as the cancer had spread to his lungs. Nine months later the cancer took his life.

I’ve never forgotten his story. I was so happy when I watched the opening ceremonies of the Olympics this year and his mom was chosen to be one of flagbearers for the Olympic Flag. People were inspired by his bravery and his desire to raise money in the hopes that others would benefit. What has always inspired me is the fact that he took on a challenge that was so beyond comprehension, so difficult, that completion was not even required. It was simply having the will to see it through to the very end.

One of the things that I have struggled with my entire life is being paralyzed by fear. The unknown is the scariest thing in the world to me and I have built my life so that everything is structured. But I need to break out of that and challenge myself to try something without knowing that I can succeed. A jigsaw puzzle is a simple thing but it is still a challenge of will. Do you have the patience and the dedication to see it through? When I finished last night I felt like I could take on the world. So much of that fear dropped away because I had taken on a challenge and won. It is nothing compared to what Terry Fox did. But I hope that this helps me to act a little more like him, to go and look out into that unknown, to know that you are on a path where success is not guaranteed and to take step after step after step.

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