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699 of 700

Or “Your Shape & My Shape”

I did a puzzle once. I mean, I’ve done a puzzle more than once — I have a 3 year-old, after all. But I remember this puzzle quite specifically.

It was one of those really big ones that you leave sitting in the dining room on the dinner table for a long weekend. I did it while my mom watched baseball late into the evening after she swore “just one more inning, then I’m going to bed.” 4 innings later, she and I were still there: her eyelids only opening when she heard the crack of the bat off a line drive, my fingers spinning puzzle pieces around to find a fit.

Portland, Maine: That’s what the puzzle was a picture of. A picturesque street that I’m sure served as inspiration for a Norman Rockwell painting somewhere. There was a big American flag in the foreground, a boy playing with a border collie in the bottom right corner, and a bunch of balloons outside the window of a shop that sold model trains. The scene was rainy and the drips off the windshields of the cars that lined the road made the reflections even more difficult to trace with the tiny puzzle pieces.

My rainy-day main street picture was almost complete; just a small patch of dining room table peeked through where 1 last puzzle piece still needed to fill a patch of wet sidewalk. But I had no puzzle pieces left. No extras lay on the dining room table. No errant pieces had slipped into my lap. No gray tiny patch of sidewalk had fallen on the white tile of my dining room. The final piece hadn’t been tucked into the flap of the puzzle box.

It was gone.

As beautiful as the rest of that rainy picture had been, it would never be complete. And there’s no satisfaction in doing 699 pieces of a 700-piece puzzle.

The most important piece of a puzzle is the one that you don’t have. The most important part is the one that’s gone. The element that’s missing. The hole in the process, the empty seat at the table, the missing voice in the song.

Your special shape fits perfectly into the centuries-long puzzle of humanity. The world needs your piece. Because, when we all get together, the picture is beautiful.