The missing piece

Twelve years ago, by chance, I discovered Shel Silverstein’s ‘The missing piece’. I gravitated towards the simplicity of it, a few lines, a few words, a whole new way of describing the most basic principles of what it means to be human in a world where everyone tells you that you’re never enough. If you don’t know the book – and yes this is a massive spoiler alert – the circle-like creature is going through life enjoying the most simplest things but thinking to itself, that it may be missing something in its life. So out it goes, looking for that piece. One was too small, one was too big, and eventually it found the perfect piece. The only problem was, that while everything was perfect, it didn’t enjoy the life it had created as a perfect circle.

Shel Silverstein "The missing piece"
Shel Silverstein “The missing piece”

To be perfectly honest, me-minus-12-years, i.e. in 2008 – while I was able to understand the words – couldn’t quite understand the meaning. The idea to give something up, that just seemed so perfect, just because one couldn’t do all the things that one wanted to do when life wasn’t perfect, it was absurd. I thought to myself, but at least you’d be whole – you’d be perfect! What was the lesson here?! And while I couldn’t answer that, I bought the book anyways, and I treasured it in a way, I rarely treasure books. I can count the books that traveled through the world with me on one hand (1. roughly translated from German “Can’t you sleep little bear?” which has a lovely inscription from my dad in it, 2. The little prince which I read when I was seven and although I REALLY didn’t understand what was going on, I loved it anyways, 3. translated from German “Madura’s world” (about creating a world that is invisible to some), 4. The five people you meet in heaven (it’s a really complex book…), and 5. The missing piece). Anyways, so while I didn’t quite understand the book, I still held on to it, as if there was something else to the book’s message that I was trying to unpack.

Me-minus-6-years, i.e. in 2014 – found myself decluttering my bookshelf (which mostly contained non-book adjacent things, i.e. DVDs, photo-albums, and lots of dust…) and again flipped through the pages of “The missing piece”. There I was – yet again – contemplating the deeper meaning of the pages. Was it about finding the right partner? Was it about finding the right career? Was it about growing up? Was it about knowledge? WHAT WAS IT? I just couldn’t reconcile the words with their meaning and while it didn’t bother me per se, I wasn’t comfortable with the unsettling feeling that I was missing (ha!) something. But I got distracted, so I let the book be, and returned to everyday chores.

So, here we are, in 2020 and while I haven’t touched the book since 2014, the words are still with me. Did I find an answer as to the deeper meaning of Shel Silverstein’s book? No, not at all, if anything, more and more questions were uncovered, some that were rather uncomfortable, and some that didn’t fit into my world-view at all. And then there were all those things, that just seemed to be a perfect fit, and yet that perfectness bugged me tremendously, because it just did not feel right. I just couldn’t seem to come to a perfectly fine equilibrium, I wasn’t perfectly happy, and I certainly wasn’t perfectly content with any of it.

So maybe, and I am going out on a limb here, maybe that’s what the missing piece is about? When the perfect thing comes along we tend to embrace it fullheartedly, not questioning why and how and what and yet, we are still not content. And that’s just it, being content is such a hard lesson to learn, the most difficult one really. How many hearts were broken waiting for something that seemed like it would create happiness, and yet, it just didn’t. Be it a job, be it a relationship, maybe hoping to get pregnant, maybe it’s the dream house, whatever it may be – we are chasing things, that we think we need to be happy, things that fulfill us. One of the hardest lessons we all have to learn in life is being content. We are so quick to become complacent, chasing our tails for the next best thing that supposedly will make us happy, but will it really? Are we actually missing a piece or are we just perfect the way we are?

The moral of this blog post is, the next time you pick up a children’s book, maybe go for something less deep than Shel Silverstein, how many YEARS have I now thought about this book ever so often without just being content that this book was just that – a great book? But also, be critical with what you read and why you read it and why you understand it the way you understand it and be content with that uncomfortable feeling, because it means something. For me, I will put my thoughts about Shel Silverstein to rest and finally read ‘The giving tree’, I’ve been meaning to unpack that one in light of climate change and resource-extraction forever… Or, maybe, just maybe, I am content with today and let it be and watch some mindless Netflix instead. On that note, be kind to yourself, be kind to others.

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