asterisks and missing pieces


her heart was rent, her center would not hold – Sarah Ban Breathnach

I have spent the second part of my life breaking the stones, drilling the walls, smashing the doors I placed between the light and myself in the first part of my life. – Octavio Paz



My Dad loves puzzles these days.  The ones made of cardboard that when all the pieces fit just so, it comes together to reveal a beautiful image.  

This morning I have kept the world at arms length.  My quiet side cried out for whispers of grace descending from the tree tops. To write.  To manage a whole thought at once rather than broken into crumbs spilled upon the counter.  They will never be whole again.  They’re fine as they are of course.  Crumbs add a lovely crunch to the top of a casserole.  Crumbs are a feast fit for the birds. The dogs will happily devour every single one of them and ask for more.

But crumbs do not give the beauty of a whole picture.  There is nothing well rounded and finished about them. They are only bits that are no longer part of the story.    

300, 500, 1,000 piece puzzles dumped onto a table look like a big pile of crumbs. But these are different. These have edges and corners. In time and with diligence they will fit together just right.  They will become what they were always meant to be, a lovely image.  For now though, they are a messy pile and where in the world does one begin?  

 I know the rules of the game.  Of course there are rules.  There are always rules, even when they’re unspoken ones.  Edges come first and foremost.  Define the parameters. Create the form. Then and only then can one begin  to get to the good stuff, the heart of the thing.  An image begins to emerge. Pieces begin to fit.  You See Something.  Excitement builds.  I got this.  One piece and then another. Until…




A snag. You’re closing in on completion but something’s missing.  Hopefully all the pieces are present and accounted for.  Hopefully nothing has fallen to the floor or gotten itself hidden somehow.  Yes, puzzle pieces do have the ability to move from place to place without your help.  Didn’t you know?  What follows is a frenzied and all out search.  It can’t be!  It Has to be here.  You’re on hands and knees combing every inch of the floor.  You revisit the empty box…for the fourth time, just to be sure.  

You fight the puzzle.  You fight yourself.  You’ve been looking too hard for too long.  You can no longer see.  

Walk away. Take a break. Give your eyes a rest   Let the puzzle wait.  It’s not going anywhere. Maybe it is…but that’s another story altogether, a fairy tale I think.  When you return the piece shows itself.  It was hidden amongst the others all along.  There in plain sight.  One has to let go to see.  It fits right into its place snug along the edges and hugging all the curves.  The puzzle is done.  The image is complete.  You stand back and admire the beauty of it with great satisfaction.  A momentary victory.  A small oohrah! 

Already your mind races forward. Hmmm. Do I leave it here? After all, it took me so much time.  I should enjoy my efforts for a while.  If I do that though, I won’t be able to use the table.  Hmmm.  I could glue it. Then I could admire it forever.  I’m not much for that though. I’d have to store it or frame it or who knows what else.  Hmmm.  There’s only one thing to be done.  Dismantle it.  Take it apart.  Tuck all the little pieces safely at home in their box.  Put it aside for another day or another person to enjoy.  The time of this puzzle has come and gone.  It lingered for awhile but now it’s time to let it go.  

I’m not much of a puzzle person to be honest. I’d rather be moving about or painting or…writing.  Words are my pieces and writing is my puzzle.  I love to gaze at the empty page. My pen is poised and  ready…when my thoughts catch up to me and the words come together just so.  Yes, yes, that one hugs the others perfectly.  Or, the inevitable scratch out… no, no, that’s not what I mean at all.  



I pause over the messy page not quite knowing where to go next. – I guess I should walk the dogs.  After all they’ve been staring at me for a good 20 minutes now, and wrestling with one another in doggy fashion beneath my feet.  We’ve been soooo good for soooo long.  Seriously.  Don’t you need a break? Aren’t we cute?  You should really stop what you’re doing for a while and play with us instead.  It’ll be good for you.  Promise.  They’re right of course.  They always are.  I let out a sigh of great exasperation at their infinite and all encompassing wisdom that I have to work so hard for.

Shoes on my feet.  Music to settle my soul.  Off we go then.  Trees above.  Dirt beneath.  My joyful four legged companions.  I walk and I wait. I wait for the right words to find me.  Always, they do.

Whenever I fight it, the puzzle, the words, the dailiness of life, it never works out then.  I waste myself spinning ever inwards tightening to a place so small that I cannot see the missing piece.  It waits patiently in plain sight.  It is in letting go that I gently circle forth again just as the graceful curves of a paper nautilus spiral outwards beautifully away from self. Only then does my vision clear enough to see what was right before me all along.



My Dad is the smartest man I’ve ever known.  He was never much of a puzzle person either, the cardboard variety.  But give him a real life problem and just watch his engineering brain take hold and keep on.  He wasn’t afraid to take anything apart in his thoughts or with his hands over and again until he had completely mastered the what and how and why of it.  Still, sometimes the solution evaded him.  Seemingly, he would let go of the whole dilemma.  His efforts turned to bread making or gardening.  Often he would wander through a well loved book, the old fashioned kind.  None of this e-reader stuff.  Dad read books that feel heavy in your hand as they carry you to another place and time. He kept a pencil near when he read so as to make his signature asterisk to mark the passages he found most meaningful.  Oh how I love to come across one of Dad’s asterisks, a hidden treasure to be sure.  



Suddenly the answer was there hovering just within reach of him and he’d go back to the problem now able to fill in the missing piece.  Done! Complete! Whole! 

And then, he put it away.  Dad knew better than to leave a “done puzzle” on the table to be stared at.  He knew when it was time to gather it up, put it back in its box, and pass it along.  He learned all the lessons the puzzle offered him, pondered every piece as he held it in his hands. He knew all too well that the blessing of the puzzle was in the journey of it, never in the preservation of it.  Time to let go to make room for the next one. 

Like me, Dad was never much interested in cardboard puzzles. He was far more fascinated by the ones of real life. But these days Dad works at the beautiful cardboard pieces with a quiet intensity.  He can just manage 100 pieces and even that takes time.  The daily puzzles of his life have changed.  They’ve become something different than they were before.  He no longer solves big things for many.  But, you should see his warm contented smile when he fits that final piece of the image right where it belongs.  And then just as easily, he lets the whole thing go.  The journey of one puzzle beautifully complete. The thrill of the next waiting just within reach…

I love you Dad