If you could board an airplane and fly 3,000 miles to come and visit us right now, (although you can’t, because Peru’s borders are still closed) you would probably find us gathered around the dining room table putting together a puzzle.
I wouldn’t exactly call us a “puzzling family,” since we usually only work on one or two puzzles a year when we get together with missionary colleagues at our annual retreat or during a holiday visit. But as the months of our extended Coronavirus quarantine continue to drag on, we’ve pulled out the puzzle boxes to help fill the long hours of each day.
It’s interesting how puzzling seems to shine a spotlight on the unique facets of each family member’s personality. For example, a couple of us don’t necessarily enjoy the beginning stages of the puzzle, but are more than happy to spend a few minutes working on it here and there once the picture starts to take shape. Another of our crew not only has an eye for color and detail, but also has the extreme patience and dedication to work on the puzzle from beginning to end.
And then there’s always that one family member who lingers around the edges of the puzzle table, talking incessantly while hiding important pieces from his brother. This is the one who is usually accused of committing the biggest puzzler’s sin, commonly referred to (at least in my family of origin) as the “cram-jam.”
Our most recent success was the parrot puzzle pictured above. It was fun until all of the colorful pieces were in place and we were left with just the monochromatic blacks, browns and grays. The drab color scheme seemed to be an unfortunate reflection of my mood at the moment, as my mind was filled with jumbled thoughts brought on by spending too much time scrolling through Facebook and reading all of the depressing news stories coming from the United States.
I was sorely tempted to just break up the large chunks and dump the puzzle back into its box, but my slightly-OCD mind wouldn’t allow that, so I kept pushing ahead with the dull colors. By the time the picture morphed into something like this, however, I realized it was time to take a break for the night.
After a nice breakfast the next morning, I sat down at the puzzle table with a hot cup of coffee in my hand and the morning sunlight streaming in through the window, and clicked about 20 pieces into place within the first minute. It was amazing what a fresh perspective (thanks to sleep, food, good coffee, and bright sunlight) brought to the project.
I thought about the dull gray mood that had been hanging over my head for the past several weeks, and wondered if a fresh perspective could pull me out of that slump, too. Being stuck in complete lockdown for over three months has been hard. Having Peru’s president add the entire month of July to the quarantine for our department (state) and a few other hard-hit areas of the country felt like a crushing blow! Add to that the constant ugliness in the U.S. news each day- the incessant counting of new Covid hospitalizations and deaths, racial strife, protests turning into riots, crowds tearing down statues – and it’s a wonder that I was still hanging on at all!
You would think I would have been wise enough to stop there, but NO, I had to add a daily perusal of Facebook to the mix. OK, maybe it was more than just a “perusal,” but I legitimized this activity in my mind by seeing it as a way to feel connected to friends and family during a time when I can’t be physically close to anyone but the 3 males in my own house. (If you’ve ever been in that position, you understand the desperate need to connect with a few sisters & girlfriends from time to time!)
I soon discovered that Facebook did little more than add extra clouds to an already gray mood. Everywhere I looked I was being told what I should be thinking and feeling and doing about the current racial crisis.
“Silence = Violence, ” I read, and I felt guilty because I hadn’t written any posts about race. And then everyone changed their profile pictures to a black square, which I didn’t understand until I googled the black square and discovered it was for “Blackout Tuesday”… but if you chose to use the black square, you should NOT tag it with #BLM because you would be “drowning out vital information” being shared by Black Lives Matter.
I felt a little bit guilty for not changing my profile picture to a black square, because so many of my friends (good & respectable people) did. But then I saw other friends (also good & respectable people) who were supporting “Blue Lives Matter,” and “All Lives Matter,” and pretty soon people on all sides of all debates were jumping in with (mostly rude & unkind) comments about why or why not each slogan should be used.
Then one day I read a fairly interesting article (I actually agreed with the political position), but when I saw that it was prefaced by something to the effect of “I’m not sure if anyone is willing to be educated on Facebook, but…” I thought to myself,
“What am I doing? OF COURSE I’m not willing to be educated on Facebook!”
(I’ll do my own research, thank you! And I am researching these issues, and I just might come up with another post soon sharing my thoughts. Check back in a few days if you’re interested.)
That’s when I thought about the puzzle, and how my fresh perspective (fueled by sleep and food and coffee and light) made all the difference.
So I cut back a bit on reading the news and scrolling through social media. And I changed up my “quiet time” by making it loud … singing through favorite songs from the old green hymnal I brought to Peru 20 years ago. I re-discovered the Biblical truths in the words of these songs and read through the Scripture passages that inspired each writer. I also took time to look through notes of encouragement written by members of the small group that Ade & I joined during our very first furlough in the U.S. (We used the green hymnal during all of our meetings that year!)
I started “summer school” with the boys so they wouldn’t be bored (right now we’re reading Tom Sawyer and the book of Revelation), and I found a new online exercise program to bring a bit of spice back into the daily grind. And, bless his heart, handy-man Ade found a way to fix my oven so I’m happily baking all of our favorite treats again!
We finally finished the bird puzzle a few days ago and have started on a new one. The colors are much prettier; they actually soothe the soul as I sit down at the puzzle table. There are 500 more pieces to this one, and I’m not sure that Ade and the boys will like the flower theme, so I don’t know how long it will take. But I set up a table lamp to shine brightly on the pastel pieces during the dim evening hours, and I know that coffee and a good snack are not too far out of reach.
And as I work on this puzzle …
… and as we continue living with the quarantine lockdown in our department of Peru …
… and as we learn to make our way through a turbulent political time …
I will do my best to not forget about the power of a fresh perspective.