An old man sits in a chair, focusing on the crackling of the fireplace at his feet. You, his twelve-year-old grandchild, await his answer. He stares into the flames, silent. Fearing you may have lost him, you repeat, “Grandpa?”
His eyes still locked on the fire, he replies, "So you want to know what 2020 was like, eh?"
You nod. You know about the chaos of 2020 from history books, but you want to hear it from someone who was actually there, someone who lived it.
He continues. “You know what I remember most about 2020?”
You lean in and excitedly interrupt. “COVID-19? Cryptocurrency? The socio-economic reawakening and subsequent destabilization of the American middle class?”
Your grandpa smiles and settles deeply into his chair. His eyes never stray from the flames. “No. Jigsaw puzzles.”
“What? Jigsaw puzzles?”
“Yes. Jigsaw puzzles.”
“Back in those days, everything was physical, including puzzles. Puzzles came in a box where all the pieces were broken up and scattered-”
“Grandpa, I know what a jigsaw puzzle is-”
He raises a finger to stop you. You wait, he continues. “-broken up and scattered into a thousand pieces. Some were so difficult that they were made of a single solid color. Others were designed to be beautiful and nothing more. But they were, all of them, scattered...”
He lingers on the last word, scattered, letting the sound of it mix with the snaps and pops of the fire. The flames dance slow and the embers glow bright; the fire is dying. Its dim light reflects in the old man’s eyes as he draws a slow breath.
“It was hard. It was like the whole world was one big beautiful picture and everything was alright. And then one day, it shattered. The whole thing broke into a thousand pieces.”
The fire sputters. The flames struggle, holding onto the already-burnt logs, desperate for something to keep them alive. The light flickers.
“It was really, really hard.”
The flame goes out, leaving a pile of embers and a ghost of smoke. You sit with your grandpa in the dark, staring at the embers and imagining what it must have felt like.
You each take a deep, slow breath, enjoying the crackle of the dying fire.
Your grandpa stares at the smoke, then nods. He reaches behind his chair and produces another log to add to the fire. He quietly places it atop the embers, then leans in and blows gently, breathing life and light into whatever’s left. With his help, the flames spring back to life and cling to the log, slowly building themselves back up. After a moment, the light from the fire shines bright on both of your faces again.
You hesitate. “So… jigsaw puzzles?”
Your grandpa nods, “Yep. It felt so much like putting one giant puzzle back together. Still does, sometimes. There’s really only two choices when something you love is broken up into a thousand pieces; give up, or work on putting it back together. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s fun. Sometimes it’s boring. But when you’re all done, and it’s all finished, and everything is where it’s supposed to be… Aahh. There’s no other feeling quite like it.”
Your grandpa closes his eyes and smiles, satisfied with the fire's warmth. You think of the puzzles you’ve completed before and remember the satisfaction of “the last piece.” Grandpa is right; there’s nothing quite like putting a puzzle back together, putting every piece where it belongs, where it was meant to be. From the mess of how things started to the whimsical pleasure of something completely and perfectly “fixed.”
There’s no other feeling quite like it.
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