I quickly lose interest in puzzles, especially mazes on paper.
I get upset at all the choices. Stressed. Flummoxed. Discombobulated.
Then I start drawing my way through, crashing blindly into one wrong turn after another. I think I see the way, only to discover I don’t. I want off the page.
My daughter Maggie approaches puzzles differently. At four, when handed a maze and crayons at a restaurant, she stared at the pattern for however long necessary. Then she’d begin at START and draw her way to END without ever making a mistake.
Zip, zip, zip.
Recently I handed her a maze from the internet to see if she’d changed. Nope. Same process. Study and go straight to the end with no wrong turns.
A blog reader, with no connection to this particular post, happened to mention how she did mazes as a child. She’d color all the dead ends until the correct path appeared. This approach never occurred to me, so I tried it.
And lost interest.
It felt entirely backwards to me, although it clearly worked for her.
I knew there was a blog post here–in the mazes of left and right choices, but I had no idea how. So what? I asked myself for weeks. Where’s my conclusion?
Then I saw it.
While out for a walk, I encountered our neighbor doing chores on the the local museum grounds. As we chatted, a blind resident of the town walked across the street from us, tapping his cane. He stopped and called, “Is this the restaurant?” She crossed over to explain he was headed the wrong direction and told him the right way to go if he turned around and walked back to the last corner. He thanked her and turned.
But when he reached that corner, he hesitated, tapping, tapping, tapping, trying to remember the correct turn.
“I’ll go,” I said, ending our conversation.
Together, he and I walked back. Through his constant apologies and thanks, he said he must have taken the wrong turn out of the post office. I understood that he’d continued making the correct turns in order to reach his home, but it didn’t matter.
He was off course, based on one miss.
If he’d kept walking straight ahead, without checking with us, he’d have come to the end of the sidewalk on the northern edge of town. His cane would have tapped grass. If he’d maneuvered around the tree and hitching post and reached the blacktop, he’d have headed into the forest or gone down the bank into the old canal.
There wouldn’t have been a soul to hear him.
As we walked, I explained what we were passing, but I could tell he was still thinking about how he’d gone wrong in the first place. Stressed. Flummoxed. Discombobulated.
This was not a horizontal paper maze to navigate. He was working vertically and in traffic. He’d been marking out the dead ends for sure, but without vision, the correct path was not obvious.
I was a handy crayon.
When we reached the last corner for him to cross to find home, he could tell we were in traffic. Drivers had stopped, watching us.
“They’re all waiting for you to cross,” I said. And he did, offering his gratitude for my time.
I thought about that, how a maze is a puzzle I can set aside. My missed turns along the page don’t matter at the end of they day. In fact, I don’t even have to finish it.
He lives it, with courage and with faith in strangers.
Step by step.