The Missing Piece

by Melinda
(Satellite Beach, FL)

The Missing Piece

Like most Americans, 2020 brought challenges to my household (some exceedingly difficult and some trivial–but neither without life lessons attached). When the world closed down and we were made to stay at home–and even when it opened back up but we were encouraged to remain in place–we had to learn new ways to fill our time. We rode bikes. We swam. We binged Netflix and Amazon Prime and all of the channels in between. One day, we purchased a jigsaw puzzle online. It would become one of close to a hundred that we would complete in the next three years.

Initially, the puzzles we bought were new and a little pricey. One was 3000 pieces and $75. Most, though, were in the thirty dollar range. That seems like a lot for a puzzle, but many of them take us close to 150 hours total, so averaged out it really is an inexpensive hobby. For untold hours, we listened to Pandora while we searched for and snapped pieces like we were some kind of museum curators performing technical tasks.

Then one day we discovered the games section at our local Goodwill. We were shocked to find that the puzzles we wanted were only between five and seven dollars each. We snatched them up by the armload and assembled them just as quickly as we got them home.

After dozens of puzzles and thousands of hours, the unthinkable happened: we had a puzzle with a missing piece. As we put the last few pieces into a 2000 piece puzzle, the mood was triumphant, celebratory–until we realized that we were one little pressed cardboard chip short of a full display. Sounds of disappointment filled the air. We searched the area. My husband swept, and I got on all fours with my face pressed to the floor to try to see if we were still somehow simply overlooking it. Our efforts were fruitless. The final piece was gone.

Questions arose. Do we donate our incomplete masterpiece back to Goodwill? I mean, it is defective now after all. Would we purchase an incomplete puzzle? *scoffs* Certainly not! Nobody wants a puzzle with a missing piece–but why not? Are the other nineteen hundred ninety nine pieces not worth the quality time, entertainment, and conversation spent searching for what goes where? Next: guilt and introspection. Why are we so reluctant to reintroduce this puzzle to the world? Ultimately, I think I felt that this was some sort of reflection on me–like I wasn’t offering a hundred percent–that somehow I was flawed. I was cheating a buyer out of the ‘full’ experience. I wasn’t presenting my best self to the world (never mind that someone else likely donated it with a missing component).

My husband suggested putting an X on the puzzle map to mark the spot of the missing piece and leaving a note on the box. This is a lot like pointing out a flaw–one that would make a potential buyer think that it’s not good enough and move on to another, more complete puzzle. It felt somehow dirty to acknowledge that we offered up this not-quite-complete thing.

We never came to a decision about what to do with the puzzle. A week or so later, I found the missing piece tucked in neatly at the base of a barstool. We laughed aloud and internally applauded that our treasure was now whole.

The pursuit of perfection is, ironically, quite ugly. In this world where appearances are carefully curated on social media and in public to present one’s best self and best life, we have forgotten that it’s okay to be imperfect, to be human, to perhaps be missing something. It’s likely why I found such fault with this absent piece.

In reality, though, most of us can’t say that our lives are one hundred percent–or that we have ALL of the pieces. We might be missing at least a piece or two, and that’s okay. Cherish (praise!) the puzzle–the life–that is quite nearly whole. Rejoice in each piece. It can’t hurt to look for the missing pieces, but make the search efforts cursory. Spend more time appreciating the other nineteen hundred ninety nine. After all, maybe the piece you have been looking for truly has been there from the start.

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Jan 22, 2024
Thank you, Dr. Defoore
by: Melinda Sands

You make an insightful comment about how we are always 'looking'--maybe that's a lesson in itself.

Dec 13, 2023
Excellent Wisdom
by: Dr. DeFoore

Hi Melinda

I love your story, and the wisdom you share. There are so many ways to apply your insights in our daily lives. The moments of completion, where everything is in place, are few and far between, whereas the moments in which we're looking for the next or the missing piece are frequent and abundant.

Thanks so much for sharing!

My best,

Dr. DeFoore

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