(My extended family of friends lost a beloved. I just want to shout these words from the rooftops in the hopes of making some sense out of such sadness. I couldn't stop these words from pouring out all last night and into this morning. I hope they are soothing to your spirit as well.)
I said goodbye to a very dear friend yesterday. When I arrived, I didn’t know it would be goodbye, but when I left his room, I felt deep within my heart that I might not have the privilege of seeing his smile again on this side of life.
While I was there I found myself spending most of my time in the lobby, doing whatever piddly thing I could to try and support his dearest family and friends.
I arrived just as a box was being opened. It contained a puzzle.
My anxiety at what to do and say as we all sat around melted almost instantly.
A puzzle! I’m good at puzzles. I can do this.
We can put this together.
We can turn this jumbled and confusing mess into a painting of a horse on the beach. We can put these pieces back together.
As a puzzle assembling team, we were very well suited. One separated them into colors and started piecing together the edges. One found a specific portion of the painting and set to putting that specific cloud whisp together out of the palest blue ones.
I, however, couldn’t stop looking for specific pieces. If there was a piece of sky missing, I’d scour until I’d found it. I couldn’t move on to another piece until I’d found the one I was looking for.
We made great progress. We had all but three of the edge pieces and lots of big patches, but I felt unsettled.
Where were the missing edge pieces?
Was I overlooking them?
Were ALL of us overlooking them?
Or were they missing?
I felt frustrated. I didn’t want to work on the sky or the horse’s mane. I wanted to finish the edges. But the edges weren’t there.
Why work on a puzzle with missing pieces?
What’s the point?
Eventually people came and went.
Other puzzlers joined and abandoned the effort.
Some people didn’t want to even finish the puzzle if pieces were missing, myself among them.
Long after I left, folks continued working and sorting and finding notches that fit together to pull up the painting from its bits.
In the very early morning hours, our friend was finally at peace.
And the puzzle was complete.
Or as complete as it could be… with something missing.
When I woke to the news, I couldn’t stop thinking about the puzzle. Around the same time that the messages of his passing came through, so did a photo of the puzzle.
Everytime I think of those few hours, the afternoon I spent with my friends, that puzzle fills my thoughts.
I think I learned something very, very precious and I can’t stop my mind from processing it over and over.
It makes sense to compare our lives to that puzzle.
We’ve got all these mangled, indecipherable pieces that make little sense on their own. We do the best we can to make sense of who we are and what we’re made of, and we have a general sense of what could be—if we’re lucky. There are people who are in our life to sort out our components into different areas, who help us establish our identity, who help us find our boundaries, and who help us create meaning from our scraps.
And sometimes, we lose a piece.
Sometimes, we lose a piece of ourselves that we can’t ever get back. Maybe it’s been swept under the couch, or a toddler ate it, or maybe it finally went to sleep.
My instinct, and maybe that of others as well, was initially to scrap the puzzle all together.
What’s the point of assembling a puzzle with missing pieces?
How much satisfaction could there be when you get to the end and you look down and you still see gaps?
But I was wrong.
The point of the puzzle isn’t, and has never been having a perfect picture at the end. The fun of working on a puzzle is the WORK. It’s the sorting and trying and failing and getting ONE piece to fit and cheering yourself on for making even minuscule progress, because you know it’s bringing you closer to finishing.
And finishing isn’t really finishing. It’s just… doing what you can.
A puzzle with a piece or two missing really is worth doing.
And a life with missing pieces is especially worth living.
Even with the gaps, we still know what belongs there. We know if it’s a bit of sky, or a cloud, or a strand of hair floating on the wind, or a lover, or a friend.
Even once the piece is lost, it still belongs there, and it always will.
A piece of so many puzzles went missing yesterday. There are dozens, probably hundreds of people who don’t have a complete set after this loss, but the space left behind will be a reminder of the one that fills it perfectly.
The spaces unfilled are the ones that we think about, that we remember, that we will always look for in the nooks and crannies of our lives.
And I feel certain that even as its bittersweet taste still stings our tongues, it is better to have lost a piece, than to never have puzzled at all.