Mark Ballard

Fitting together life’s puzzle pieces

Each new artwork is like a puzzle waiting to be solved.
Each new artwork is like a puzzle waiting to be solved. Special to The Telegraph

As a young boy, I remember our family putting together puzzles from time to time. Their subject matter and complexity depended on my sister’s and my age at the time they were purchased. I can’t recall any of their images in particular, but I do remember sitting at a table with my family trying to make the puzzle come together one piece at a time.

When the puzzle’s box was opened and the small irregular-shaped pieces spilled out onto the table, I always let out a little sigh. It seemed hopeless that we could take all of these out-of-order cardboard pieces and create the image that proudly graced the front of the box. Picking up the first pieces, we all shook our heads.

Piece by piece, our goal was usually realized — unless a stray puzzle piece went missing in action. I can remember emptying the vacuum cleaner bag on occasion only to find the final piece of the puzzle tucked inside a dust ball. Or, in the process of looking for something else, find it hiding underneath the sofa or a chair.

The older I become, the more I realize that life is really a big puzzle. I suppose that’s why it is divided into days and years instead of being given to us all at once. We get to practice in our youth but, with each year, more responsibility is required. It isn’t until we are able to look back that we understand the way the pieces fit together.

Most of life is about solving a puzzle of one kind or another. Just the other day, I sat in front of a blank sheet of paper. It was my goal to render a clear vase with water holding a single bloom. No matter how many times I’ve attempted this process in the past, I’m still a little nervous each time. Debra was having surgery and would be gone for hours, so I thought this was the perfect time to attempt it.

As I often do, I try to solve the most complicated part of a situation first. In my mind, if I can achieve this, then the rest will be easier to accomplish. I stared at the single vase sitting on the window sill in a hospital room. I began to draw all the complicated shapes that were visible as light passed through the glass and water. Each shape was abstract at first but the more I drew, the more the fragmented parts came together.

After drawing awhile, the water-filled vase began to appear on the paper. At that point, I moved on to the other sections of the drawing including the flower the vase was holding. As the hours ticked by, the hydrangea bloom slowly began to blossom. By the time night fell, I was satisfied that I had done my best to solve this particular puzzle.

The next day, Debra’s doctor entered the room to check on her. His eyes caught sight of the drawing I had finished the evening before. He was amazed and said he didn’t understand how I was able to draw clear water! Not knowing exactly how to explain it, I offered him another example of puzzle solving instead.

I told him I was just as amazed at how he was able to insert a new mechanical knee into Debra’s leg and how he was able to know exactly where to place it. He stood there a few seconds, shook his head and then replied, “I guess we all have our talents.”

In this big puzzle of life, every day we are challenged with issues that have to be solved. Sometimes they are easy and other times they are very complicated and daunting.

Some times, they can even seem hopeless. We can’t give up! All we can do is tackle life’s challenges one piece at a time.

Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email; follow him at; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.