Do you remember The Missing Piece Meets the Big O, Shel Silverstein’s delightful parable for kids of all ages? My youngest daughter (now 20) told me the other day that it was the best story we read together when she was very young. I woke from an evening nap just now in which a sidekick to some Mr Big told me that I needed to “get” the missing piece.
I could hardly ignore the double prompt so I went to my daughter’s room and borrowed her copy of the Shel Silverstein story (with her permission, of course).
With the aid of wickedly simple line drawings, we follow the adventures and travails of what looks like a slice of pie. It’s trying to find a hole it can fit, and tries varies orifices that turn up, in characters it encounters.
Eventually it finds what seems to be Mr Right. He looks like a pie missing a wedge, and the missing piece slips into the hole and the fit seems perfect. But then the missing piece starts to grow, and grow, until its host complains, “I didn’t know you were going to grow.” The missing piece is ejected, and the one with the hole lumbers away, caterwauling, “I’m looking for my missin’ piece, one that won’t increase.”
We come to the denouement of the story. A character comes along who is different from the rest. He is not one of the hungry ones, or the shy ones, and there is no hole in him at all. He is the Big O. The missing piece would love to join him, but there is no place where she could fit. Can’t she at least travel on his back as he rolls along? Nope, The Big O is not going to carry her. “But perhaps you can roll by yourself,” he tells her. She is incredulous. How can she roll on her sharp corners? Corners wear off, says the Big O, and shapes change.
The missing piece just sits for a long time, despondent, when the Big O rolls away. Then very slowly she hauls herself up, and flops over. And does it again. And her edges start to wear off, and she is bumping instead of flopping, then bouncing instead of bumping, until at last, she is rolling.
There is a terrific teaching in this simple tale, and for me it’s all about soul, and soul-making. All those creatures with holes in them evoke the soul-loss any one of us is likely to suffer in the course of a life, through pain or shame or disappointment. The hunger this creates can’t be filled authentically by something that is not our own.
Nor can we find our way in life by trying to fill a gap in another person, or a niche in a social or work environment, or by just sitting around waiting for something to happen. We need to pick ourselves up and – unaccustomed though this may be – start moving according to our own inner lights. And let the road smooth out our sharp edges and put curves in our linear thinking.
Instead of trying to fit a hole, we want to become whole. To be pals with the Big O, you have to become your own Big O.