Last week after our school system announced they’d be closed for three weeks, I ordered a 3000 piece jigsaw puzzle. I was anticipating long days ahead in our home and wanted to have an ongoing project all three of us could come back to in moments of boredom.
I hate puzzles.
If you want a picture, go buy some art.
If you want to solve a problem, choose something that has more bearing on the world.
And yet, I ordered a 3000 piece puzzle. Because right now solving at least one of the problems bearing down on the world means staying home. And I guess puzzles are good for that.
I spent the greater part of Sunday afternoon staring at startlingly similar-looking pieces of greyish cardboard trying to craft a sky from the fragments. Sipping away at my coffee and trying to fit things together and failing time and again. I think I succeeded in finding a place for thirty of the three thousand. It’s going to be a long haul.
As I continue to look for ways to think about courage creatively, my impulse-buy jigsaw puzzle may have a lot to teach me. I want courageous action to be swift and decisive, a singular event that turns the tide of a cataclysmic event; a breakthrough conversation that sets a relationship on the rocks aright; one shining moment that casts all the doom and gloom away.
But courage, at least right now for so many of us, is found in doing something we don’t really like, or even necessarily understand, and piecing it together over the long haul. I don’t like to stay in my home for even a full day most of the time, let alone limit my trips out to one day a week and then only for groceries.
Some of us are in parts of the world where the pandemic is not yet severe and so the intensity of calls for sheltering in place seems extreme and unwarranted. We don’t understand how these murky grey pieces fit together just yet, and our fear and grief compels us to grasp for any shred of life as it was to hold on to. We just can’t stay home. We push the bounds of what public health officials are recommending. Anything to try to cram similar-looking pieces together, no matter how ill-fitted they truly are.
I tried to fit the same two pieces of my puzzle together at least a dozen times today. Over the course of the hours I spent at the table I forgot which pieces I’d tried and where, and they all run together with the same blurry grey. And I know that ultimately, one day, the blurry grey pieces will find where they fit and a giant castle standing above mist and pine trees will appear. The only way these fragmented pieces get where they belong though is for me to stare at them, frustrated, and maybe even trying the same thing over and over again in hopes something will fit together. Finally.
Most of us have no idea what a courageous response looks like from us right now. Medical professionals, yes. Grocery clerks and janitors. Delivery persons. People who are working to keep supply chains going. People working through their fabric stockpiles to sew masks. And the rest of us? We have a part too, even if it’s not clear yet. We stay at home. We check in with our friends. We tell our loved ones to stay in. We work on fitting together the blurry grey of our lives day by day, even if it means stumbling with the same two pieces over and over again. And slowly the picture will become clearer if we just keep showing up.