When we arrived, I found three familiar bent heads focused on the remaining pieces spread around the not-yet-finished jigsaw puzzle on the coffee table. In time, those pieces evolved into a whimsical cat picture, the process of which absorbed a variety of extended family members, from 8 to mid 70s, over a snowy holiday weekend. Various family came to linger in the living room, trying their hand at puzzle creation; searching for a likely piece, placing it in their imagined spot, and then returning it to the table once their attempt failed.
We’ve all seen or been engrossed by such endeavors. But this one caught my attention. It hindered a quick finish with its limited color differentiations, causing drop outs unwilling to invest more time without clear progress. After all, there were other family engagement options during our days together, from “Just Dance” video game challenges to pie making.
By our second day, two puzzle-players remained. Determined to finish, they rarely moved from their homesteaded-spots on the couch and adjacent chair. By evening, the puzzle was as done as it would ever be — complete but not completed. With one piece missing, technically, the picture would never be “finished.”
I’ve thought about that weekend several times since, with its intensity of effort, missing piece frustration, and then acceptance of the puzzle’s imperfection. Lost. Missing. Never received? Who knows why the piece wasn’t there. It didn’t matter; it was still fun.
But the experience got me thinking. We all have a missing piece or two at times in ourselves or in our lives; pieces like compassion, perspective, knowledge, awareness, love, or understanding. Sometimes those pieces are transitory around a particular hot button, like my no-patience missing piece when it comes to computers. Sometimes what’s missing is situational; we’re in a rough patch and we don’t have all the pieces around family, finances, health, or spirit.
But often missing pieces have yet to be incorporated into who we are or what we want for our life. We may be missing the pieces associated with our dreams or aspirations, zest for life or learning, or maybe how aligned our time-use is with who and what we value.
I think of my missing pieces as nudges encouraging me to try something new, evolve my thinking, reassess what I want in this life-chapter, or discover what’s important in the big scheme of things. I admit it’s taken me decades to find and fit some missing pieces into the picture I have for my life. But like my puzzle-playing family, sometimes I thought a piece would fit, but once I tried it, it didn’t. I couldn’t make it work and had to search for the right one that did.
There are many reasons for missing pieces. Life changes and morphs, and as it does, we can glimpse the picture coming together for our current life or next chapter. In the scheme of things, I think the goal is to be like those puzzle-players: love the journey, enjoy the view, connect with who and what you can along the way, and understand that sometimes we do play without all the pieces.