Why are you trying so hard to fit in when you were born to stand out?
On top of an old card table laid thousands of puzzle pieces. Some are lying flat. Others nestled in hills. Close by, a box top with an image of what the final product would look like. On the same tabletop in the middle of my grandmother’s room was an open bag of unwrapped marshmallow peanuts, a pack of Camel cigarettes and a tall ice-filled glass of Coca-Cola to quench her thirst. A small glimpse of her life as a puzzle without all the pieces in the box.
My grandmother lived outside the box. The expectations of others weren’t a concern for her. She didn’t pretend to be like everyone else and refused to change who she was to “fit in.” She found it easier to be herself. Her time wasn’t eaten up trying to impress others or keep up with them. She spent a lot of time at home, by choice filling her time working with jigsaw puzzles, poring through thousands of pieces looking for just the right one.
Like all things, the more puzzles my grandmother did, the easier it became for her to put 5,000-piece puzzles together. Over time she developed techniques that increased her skill set. One thing she did with every puzzle was put the edges together first. While I don’t think there’s a “right way” or a “wrong way” to put together a puzzle, there are some things I think she did to help make the process more fun and enjoyable, the same way she lived her life. Dividing the puzzle into zones, normally identified by colors. Keeping assorted color groups in separate piles on her work area.
She enjoyed developing her own strategy in her own personal puzzle-solving experience, selecting the right surface, and taking breaks. She would stare at the mountain of puzzle pieces, lift her slow-burning cigarette out of a tin ashtray to her perched lips, take a deep drag causing the tobacco at the end of her cigarette to glow. Select a puzzle piece while glancing at the television, only to gently place her cigarette back in its resting spot, then place another puzzle piece on the table, simultaneously, exhaling a large cloud of smoke into the air. This would go on for hours at a time.
Hours of enjoying time with herself regardless of who was around. Gazing over her black-framed glasses making eye contact. She invited me to join her without saying a word. I chose a puzzle piece and struggled to fit the piece in several different spaces. I didn’t have my grandmother’s set of skills and would hope the piece would miraculously fit into a space it was not appointed. She watched me through the corner of her eyes and in her silence, I could hear her saying, “it doesn’t fit.”
Grandmother never tried to fit into places she was not assigned. So, without even realizing it she was teaching me not to fit into whatever mold was required at the time. Over time, I came to realize not to force what doesn’t belong. It’s not about getting in where you fit in. If we are willing to change who we are just to fit in, then who are we? So, the next time you feel that you want to “just” fit in, that is an indication that you don’t belong there. Move on. Connect with people and places where you fit. Those who follow the crowd usually get lost in it.
Writer | Author | Blogger
Director & Founder
How Come, How Long (HCHL)