Dream Gates

Dream Gates

The lesson of the Big O

missing piece.jpg
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.

  • Justin Patriick Moore

    How very timely for me. I’ll be hunting this book down today.
    Thank you,

  • Robert Moss

    Roll on, Justin…

  • honor

    This is lovely – I especially like the growing part that gets ejected. Thanks for sharing this book. It’s the first time I’ve seen it.

  • Robert Moss

    Honor – Do seek out the book itself. You’ll love the drawings. Great life instruction for grown-up or child, that brings alive the wonder-child in each of us.

  • Donna K.

    I first read this book as an adult, and it explained a LOT. Coincidentally, I just recommended it to a friend last week…

  • Robert Moss

    Donna – Never too late to reclaim the wisdom of the child of the child :-)

  • Irène

    I’ve known the Shel Silverstein books since I was a child and continue to revisit them as an adult. I recently revisited “The Giving Tree” which I keep in a kitchen cupboard. I was making crèpes for my now adolescent son who I sometimes forget was once a little boy whose greatest joy was climbing up and swinging through the trees (definitely not cool behavior for a 14 year old). “The giving Tree” brings me back to my maternal center and reminds me that my son is a moving center himself, and not one to fit into something or to stay still too long.

  • Robert Moss

    Irène – Yes, “The Giving Tree” is another perennial favorite.

  • Azima

    I’ve never read this one (LOVE “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and “The Giving Tree”) – but I’m gonna find it and buy it.
    I want to keep it as a reminder to myself, and share it with all my friends. How wonderful that it came up in your dream!

  • Robert Moss

    Azima – Yep, this is fitting and essential reading.

  • Janice

    I’ve never read this book — or the others. I must add this on to my ever-growing list of books to read. Thanks!

  • Wanda PurpleSwan

    Thank you Robert, I love your interpretation of this story. I am reminded of when my kids were little and a game they loved to play. I would take out “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and they would chose a number, and I would read whatever story was on that page number. There was always the clamboring for another one, another one.

  • Robert Moss

    Janice – Reading this book will take you 5 minutes tops. Walking with it could give you mental stimulation for 5 months.

  • Robert Moss

    Wanda PS – good game, which must have delighted the child in you as well as your own kids.

  • Gabby Jung

    It was about a month ago while at a TJMaxx to look for some books for my daughter Jaslyn, I found Shel Silverstein’s book “Where the sidewalk ends”. I thought it was very interesting, fun and full of imaginations for both adults and children not knowing it was same author of “The giving tree” that I read decades ago. I was going to buy and read for Jaslyn but forgot about it. Jaslyn loves Rymes(some Dr. Suess books have)and loves imagination games now (she will say “mommy, I am going to splash you” then pretends she jumps into water near me. Then I pretend I get wet. I pretends to turn away, wave my hands and scream. She bursts into big laugh! I thought she is too young for this book but maybe she will like the drawings and stories. I will never know until I read it for her. Thanks Robert!

  • Robert Moss

    Gabby – Shel Silverstein is very simple and with the drawings will probably appeal even at Jaslyn’s age. None of my daughters cared for Dr Suess, not did I, and I was curious to discover long after our efforts to read them together that the author actively disliked children.

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