Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Beautiful Solutions

Puzzles are one of those rare things in life for which there is always a beautiful solution. Most things involving humans are messy and imprecise. Solutions are most often some sort of compromise or approximation that leaves us feeling, at least a little, the sting of unfairness or incompleteness, but also the knowledge that we got at least as good as we gave.

But with a puzzle there is a right way and we can expect that if we work on it hard enough, long enough, if we try all the angles, we'll solve it. There's a comfort, I find, in knowing that there is a beautiful solution, one in which everything fits satisfyingly together, unlike the rest of life when we have no way to knowing if our problems even have solutions, let alone ones with the kind of built-in satisfaction of clicking that final piece into place.

We're not always capable of finding that beautiful solution, of course, and that's why puzzles are so frustrating for some of us. Sometimes no matter how much we apply ourselves the pieces just don't fit the way we know they should. These are times when frustration mounts. Most of us have our "walk away" point; that moment when the intensity of our emotions are too high a price to pay for perfection.

There are times for all of us when we cannot let it go. Even as the frustration mounts, even as the tears come, we continue to try to fit those pieces into place. There is a right answer, damn it! But as the emotions mount, they tend to crowd out our ability to reason and more often than not turn us into blubbery mice in a maze, repeatedly heading down the passageway with no cheese, edging ever closer to Einstein's definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Of course, I expect that by the time we reach that point we're not longer expecting anything, hope is dead and we're just banging our heads against the proverbial wall. When people are trapped inside these inescapable eddies of perfectionism, be they children or adults, they need the rest of us to help them break out of it: to either help them find the right answer or convince them that the right answer isn't worth all the aggravation. It's okay to walk away from a puzzle, to leave it unsolved. The world will not stop spinning, it will not even be a poorer place if we do.

Sure, some of us have larger stores of the kind of temperamental unflappability that permits us to maintain the calm focus necessary to methodically work our way to beautiful solutions, but every one of us has our breaking point and that's when we need the other people to come to our side and teach us about the messy, imprecise beauty that is only found in people helping one another. 

It's the kind of beauty that teaches us to choose our battles, to accept that life is less than perfect and that we ourselves are too. It teaches us to take heart in our fellow man, knowing that the puzzle will always get solved, it's not always up to me to solve it, and the solution may not always leave us with the satisfying click of the last piece falling into place.

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1 comment:

Julian said...

Beautifully said!