The Infinite Puzzle

Picture a single piece to a jigsaw puzzle.

No edges, just the various curves that will allow it to fit with other pieces along any side. You’ve got no picture to work with, so you don’t know what it will be when it’s done. But there are plenty of other pieces around. Amazingly, almost any of them will fit with that first one.

So your picture begins to expand. It starts to take shape, but with every new piece the image changes a little, so while you were certain it was going to be a train, now it turns into a airport, but then it’s a solar system and then it’s a library. The puzzle keeps expanding.

Sometimes there are gaps, and sometimes you find a piece way later that fit with a gap you had long ago, and you get a great satisfaction filling it. Sometimes you find a piece that actually fits in a spot that’s already filled, but it fits better or makes the picture look nicer, so you swap it out.

Sometimes you find pieces that don’t fit at all, or that don’t look good with your picture. You discard them; or maybe you stick them in your pocket and hope they’ll find a spot later. No matter how far you expand, you never find an edge piece. Sometimes you think you do, but you’re always wrong. The puzzle keeps going.

Lots of other people are working on their own puzzles. Sometimes you trade pieces – sometimes you even connect your puzzles, and now you’ve got even more space and even more edges you can attach new pieces to. On rare occasions you pick up whole sections of your puzzle and discard them. Other times they fall away themselves, but there are always more.

Though you never reach an edge and you never finish, and though the image keeps changing and it isn’t always neat and simple, it’s beautiful. The larger it gets the more fun it is; every new piece adds three new spots where a piece could go, three new ways the image could change. You’ll never finish, but you’ll also never run out of room. You can keep on adding pieces as long as you want. And as you go, you get better and better at picking out the pieces that will make the image the way you like, that will shape the puzzle to your satisfaction.

Sometimes you even make the pieces yourself. Those are the best ones; they fit any way you like and they go anywhere you want. Sometimes you change them and sometimes you don’t care for them, but often other people will pick up pieces just like them and they’ll fit wonderfully in their puzzles.

Sometimes you’ll meet people who are convinced they’ve found the edges of their puzzle. They’ll point with pride at what is obviously a notched, jagged line but swear it’s a clear, unassailable border. You’ll shake your head at how proud they are of creating an imaginary cage around themselves while you go on happily expanding your infinity.

When I’m finally tired and I’ve laid my last piece, I hope I won’t regret how many pieces I didn’t find. After all, the puzzle is infinite; you’ll never find them all. I hope instead that I can be happy with the picture I’ve made, and that maybe it made other people happy, too. I’ll leave my puzzle as it is, but I’ll make no effort to guard it after I’m done. Instead, I hope to leave a little sign in front of all those pieces, saying “Free – Please Take As Many As You Like.”

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