Jigsaw Puzzles and Life
What I learned about life came from three very important sources, God, Bill and Edna Murphy and Jigsaw puzzles. God gave me a moral compass and taught me about faith. Bill and Edna Murphy took me in and taught me about love, acceptance and what it means to have a home. And jigsaw puzzles? Well, jigsaw puzzles taught me how to live my life. My name is Peter and this is my story:
My life began at the age of seven. That's the year I met Bill and Edna. I was an only child to a couple who never really wanted me. So for the first seven years of my life their answer to my care was very little to none at all. I learned the meaning of hunger early on, and I also learned to forage for food as well. As soon as my “parents” passed out for the night I would sneak out the door and try to find food in the neighbors gardens, or in their garbage. Sometimes, if I was very lucky a neighbor would leave their door unlocked and I would sneak into their kitchen and grab whatever food I could find. And that's how I ended up in the Murphy’s kitchen, and that's when my life began.
The smell of chocolate chip cookies was too much to resist, and the heavenly scent was causing my tummy to rumble, so with the stealth of a hungry child, I crept up to the side door and let myself in. Being careful not to make any noise I gently close the door behind me and made my way through the kitchen in search of the prized cookies. Spotting them on the counter, I made a beeline for the treasure, and just as I reached out my hand to grab one, the plate moved out of my reach. Looking up in shock I opened my mouth to object.
“In this house, we wash our hands before we eat” the woman standing on the other side of the counter said. “Have you washed yours?” Looking down at my hands I saw they were covered with dirt and grime, and I could feel my heart drop. “No Ma'am” I mumbled.
“Alright then” she said, “Come with me” For a brief moment I was struck with terror. Come with me were words you never wanted to hear where I lived. The woman must have seen the look in my eyes, and she came around the corner and gently ruffled my hair.
“What's your name honey?”
“Peter Ma’am” I replied
“Well Peter, my name is Edna Murphy, What do you say we get you washed up, then I'll give you a nice plate of dinner. And if you clean your plate you may have a cookie for dessert” Offering her hand to me, I meekly placed my hand in hers and followed her to the bathroom. On the way through the living room I saw a man sitting at a card table working on a jigsaw puzzle.
“Bill?” The woman said “We have a guest for dinner.”
Looking up Bill took a hard look at me, but then a warm smile spread across his face. “Well, welcome young man! My name is Bill Murphy. And who might you be?”
“My name is Peter sir”
“Nice to meet you Peter” and with that he turned back to his card table and went back to working on his puzzle.
Edna sat across from me at the small kitchen table as I ate. I never tasted more delicious food in my life. Meatloaf, mash potatoes and carrots, a simple fare but heavenly just the same. Her lovely voice
accompanied me as I ate. I can't remember what she talked about, but it was soothing to listen to just the same. I easily finished all my food and I was presented with the promised treat. I bit into the soft cookie and felt the sweet chocolate melt in my mouth. I closed my eyes as I savored the heavenly delight. A feeling of disappointed followed the last swallow, as I was wishing it would never end. But as all good things this too must end. After I finished eating, I picked up my plate and brought it to the sink. “Thank you Ma'am.”
“You're very welcome” she replied. And out the door I went.
I waited a few days before I went back again, and just as the first time, the Murphy’s were very warm and welcoming to me. Night after night I would show up in their kitchen, and it went all very smoothly until the night the questions started.
Slipping through the side door, I ran to the bathroom to wash up, then headed for the kitchen. This time Bill and Edna were sitting at the kitchen table waiting for me. I stood there like a deer caught in the headlights, wondering what I had done wrong.
“It's ok Peter, come sit and we can chat why you eat” Mrs. Murphy said. I slowly worked my way to the table and sat down in my chair. Tonight's dinner was homemade Lasagna with garlic bread. It's smelled so good that I forgot to say grace and I dug right in. It had become customary to say grace before dinner, but I couldn't miss the sound of Mrs. Murphy clearing her throat. So I dropped my fork, bowed my head and thanked God for this wonderful meal. Finishing my prayer, I crossed myself and continued to eat.
When dinner was finished and I had my desert, a sickening feeling settled in my stomach. Bill and Edna sat across the table looking at me, and I really wanted to run for the door.
“Peter” Bill said “We need to ask you a few questions”. Oh no! Here it comes. I thought. “Ok” I answered looking down. Reaching over Edna took my hand in hers. “It's ok honey, we just need to talk to you. You're not in any trouble.” Nodding my understanding Bill continued.
“Son” he said, “Do your parents know where you are every night?”
“No sir” I answered
“Can you tell us why not?” Bill asked
I felt such shame when I thought about my life in that hellhole. I could feel the tears start to build up in my eyes, and I looked down at my lap, squeezing my hands tightly together. If they only knew, they would never let me in their home again. All I could do was shake my head no and try valiantly not to cry.
Edna got out of her chair and kneeled down before me. Taking me in her arms I allowed the tears to flow as she rocked me gently, making comforting sounds, soothing my child's pain. As the tears eventually subsided, she held my face in her hands and looked me straight in the eyes. Wiping my face with her thumbs, she leaned in and kissed my forehead. “Peter” she softly spoke “There is nothing you can tell us that would make us feel any differently about you than we do at this very moment. You are so very special to us, and we want to find a way to help you.” I looked at Edna and Bill through tear filled eyes, and I knew, for the first time in my life, what real love felt like. So I told them everything. All of it. Some parts were harder to tell than others, but I left nothing out. When I was finished, I sat silently and waited. Just waited.
I could hear Bill clearing his throat, and Edna quietly sniffing. Chancing a peek, I saw the pain in their eyes and I felt like someone had just punched me in the stomach. I caused this! My child's mind thought. My parents are right; I'm a horrible child! Jumping out of my seat I started to run for the door, but Bill was faster. He caught me in mid- stride, picked me up and just held me tight. I wrapped my arms and legs around him and held on with all my might. “Oh my boy” Bill murmured “ We are going to fix this.” Suddenly I felt so tired and I couldn't keep my eyes open another minute. I knew I had to get back home, but I needed to rest, and the next thing you knew I was sound asleep. Bill carried me upstairs to the spare bedroom and placed me on the bed. Sliding my shoes off, Edna covered me the crocheted blanket she kept at the end of the bed. Turning on nightlight on the bedside stand, Bill and Edna took one last look at me then quietly left the room.
I woke up the next morning to the smell of bacon and eggs and I thought I was in heaven. Then reality sunk in and the thought of what was waiting for me at home sent shivers down my spine. Slipping out of bed I put on my shoes and headed downstairs.
“Good morning Peter” Edna said with a big smile on her face. “Breakfast is almost ready.”
I really wanted to sit and eat, but I knew I had to get back home.
“I have to go Mrs. Murphy” I sadly replied
“No you don't sweetie. Now sit down and eat please.” Making a plate of scrambled eggs and two pieces of bacon, she slid the food in front of me and I began to eat.
Halfway through my meal it dawned on me what Edna had said. Putting down my fork I asked Edna what she meant when she said I didn't have to leave. Just then Bill walked in with a big happy smile on his face. “ Good morning Peter” he said, ruffling my hair. Kissing Edna on the cheek he sat at the table as Edna placed a breakfast plate in front of him. “How is everyone this morning?”
“Couldn't be better love” she replied as she sat down with a breakfast plate and her morning coffee. I was feeling very confused, why was everyone so happy this morning? “Shall we tell him?” Bill asked Edna.
“Oh yes?” She replied
“Well Peter, after you went to sleep last night, Edna and I sat down and talked. And if you will have us, we would love to raise you as our own.”
I just sat there with a look of shock on my face. How is that possible? I thought.
“We made a few phone calls, and the people who raised you are willing to let us take over your care. So if YOU would be willing, we would love to have you. What do you think Peter?” Bill asked
“You really want me? “I asked “So very much” Edna replied. .
My life took on a whole new meaning after that night. I was finally given a forever home and a forever family. It was many years later that I had learned everything the Murphy’s went through, and what it cost them to finally be able to adopt me. They were not rich people by any means, both teachers by trade. Never able to have children of their own, they decided to save for an early retirement and a trip around the world. Finally their goal had been reached and it was time to begin planning the itinerary for the trip itself. But it seemed God had other plans for Bill and Edna...me
Life finally fell into a comfortable rhythm. Oh, it took some time and it wasn't always easy. I never had real parents and Bill and Edna never had a child of their own, but we muddled through and we became a loving family. Thanks to Edna, I discovered I liked to cook. Simple fare mostly, but I enjoyed it just the same. Bill on the other hand taught me my love for jigsaw puzzles. Every night after dinner, we would sit together at the card table, and chat about the day as we worked on the puzzle. I learned a lot about life from those evening conversations. And as I grew into a young man, I began to realize that the formula for a successful life is very much the same as the formula for putting together a jigsaw puzzle.
On my eighteenth birthday, as I was getting ready to go off to College, Bill and Edna sat me down for a heart to heart. Sitting at the card table Bill picked up the box that the most recent puzzle came in.
“See the picture on this box?” Nodding my head yes he continued, “ This represents the vision you have for your life, what you want it to look like. Now, when you are starting a puzzle, you go through the box looking for the corner pieces and all the edge pieces so you can build your frame. Once your frame is completed, the important decisions begin. Everyone has a different way of building the inside of the puzzle, like life, it's all about choices. It's up to you to decide how YOU want your life to be. Are you following me so far?”
“Yes sir” I replied
“Ok. Now, remember what I taught you about the different ways of working on the puzzle?”
Again I said yes.
“Tell me” he said
“Well, there are a few ways. My favorite is to organize the pieces by color and pattern. But sometimes there is a lot of one color, so when that happens I organize by shape”
“Very good” Bill said “ What else should you do?”
“Keep the picture of the puzzle where you can see it” I answered.
“Correct” nodding his head in agreement Bill continued. “After the puzzle is complete what do you do next?”
Immediately I replied, “ You can glue it all together, frame it and hang it some place where you can look at every day. Or you can leave it on the table for a little while, admire it, then separate the pieces and carefully put them but in the box”
Sitting back into his chair Bill looked over at Edna and smiled. A silent message passed between the two of them that only they understood. As I waited for either one of them to speak, I couldn’t help but feel the depth of love these two people had for each other, and the gratitude I felt for the love they gave to me.
I didn’t have to wait long before Edna spoke. “Peter” Edna gently said. “Life is very much like a Jigsaw puzzle, some days every piece falls into place and life is joyful and easy. Other days you struggle to find
That missing piece and life feels hard and frustrating. Be grateful for both those times. For when life is easy be sure to hold on to those feelings and share it with those around you. But when life gets hard and you can't find that missing piece, stay calm and leave that piece behind for the moment, because maybe the piece you're looking for is not ready to be found and you need to be working on something else or heading in a different direction. And that missing piece? Don’t worry because you can’t finish the puzzle without it and it will be found when it’s time.” I remained silent as I digested everything Bill and Edna shared with me, and it all began to make sense.
“Now Peter” Edna continued “ If you find that you just don't like the puzzle you're working on, or you feel your life is heading in the wrong direction, you have the right and the option of changing that puzzle, or your life and start over again.” Reaching over she took my hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. “ We know the first seven years of your life were very difficult, but God brought you to us and in doing that blessed us all. Bill and I prayed for a child of our own, and just as we had resigned ourselves to what we thought was his plan for us, in through our kitchen door you came, and you took up residence in this home and in our hearts.”
Looking into Edna's eyes I saw her love for me reflected there and I could only hope that she could see the same reflection of love in mine. Clearing my throat in order to speak, I looked at these two remarkable people whom in every sense of the word had become my parents.
“I can not begin to express the depth of love and gratitude I have for the two of you. It had not been for your chocolate chip cookies or how I now know them to be as divine intervention, I would probably no longer be on this earth. But you saw something in me worth saving, and gave me a real home, a loving foundation to grow from and a family I can call my own.” Wiping the tears from my eyes, I took a moment to gather myself. “I hope you both know how much I love, and even though I won’t be at home, I will be taking your love and the knowledge you have shared with me, and I will carry it with me always.”
The next day I headed off to College and began my life as a young adult. I spoke with Bill and Edna often and came home on holidays. I studied hard and always did my best, remembering all the things they taught me about how to navigate life's ups and downs. Four years went by fast, and soon it was graduation day. That night as we celebrated, I sat Bill and Edna down and handed them a gift that I had made for them.
“What’s this Son?’ Bill inquired
“Open it and see”. I responded”
Together they opened the box, and as the gift was revealed I could hear Edna gasp.
“Oh my heavens!” she cried out “ Did you do this? Its...beautiful”
Sitting on her lap was a jigsaw puzzle that I had photographed and designed. This was the first puzzle I had ever created and what also turned out to be the cornerstone of my own jigsaw puzzle company that carried Bill and Edna's names. It was my way of honoring them for all they had brought into my life. And just a few short years later my company was so profitable I was able to send them on that dream vacation they had given up for me.
Incidentally, that first puzzle was worked on, glued and framed by both Bill and Edna, and was now hanging in my home as a reminder of how, if done correctly, how beautiful life and a jigsaw puzzle could be.