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An IKEA Life


Years ago, I had the bright idea to add a butcher-block-topped island to my kitchen. One with drawers. One that I could pull a couple of stools up to. One that I could put together myself. IKEA stores were relatively new then and quite the rage. I thought I'd give it a try! Off I went and home I came with lots and lots of boxes of pieces and parts. Fine, I said to myself, I'm pretty handy, I have tools, and I can follow directions. Well, directions, yes, but cute little drawings to decipher and derive some intelligible meaning from, not so much.

Yet it must work pretty well for many people. IKEA is still very much in business. I did manage to put a kitchen island with drawers and a butcher-block top together, but it took three times longer than I expected and more than one phone call to the help center. Clearly, the really bright idea the founders of IKEA have is that instructions illustrated by cute little drawings should be universally understood. No need to print directions in eighteen or more languages. The even brighter idea behind IKEA is that people like to put things together. Thanks to IKEA, they can if they purchase all the right pieces and parts and are able to make sense of the drawings.

And, yes, of course, we like to put things together. Not only with our hands but also with our heads. We like to make sense of the stuff that happens to us or even to people we don't know in other parts of the world. Remember when the news about COVID started to spread the way the virus itself did? Where did it come from, we asked. Why couldn't it have been prevented, we demanded. What have we done to deserve this devastating evil, we wailed. We needed to put the pieces together. We expected to find somewhere to lay the massive burden of blame. We wanted COVID to somehow fit into our IKEA view of life.

Because it's hard to admit that we can't make sense of everything. We're intelligent creatures after all. But that's why we call stuff like mass murders, random violence, the suffering of children, suicide, excessive greed, cruelty to animals, bullying, and sexual predation (to name but a few) sense-less. There's no good, logical, or common sense in any of it. If we work hard at it, we might be able to cobble together something of an explanation or justification for it all, but, in our heart of hearts, we feel that it just doesn't fit neatly in the IKEA life we desire. And that's the trouble with trouble. When it comes, we have to know from whence it has come and the mission for which it was sent. It's all the more troubling when it shows up in the life of someone doing their very best to live a sensible, ethical, and beneficent life. With an IKEA view of life, when this part is attached to that piece, something marvelous and sturdy results. But in real life, we'd best know how to find the help center!

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