Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Missing Piece

It’s official. I’ve given in and will now be discussing the most New York Jew of all subjects: dating. But be aware, I will not be ranting the way I probably should. Instead, I’m going to use this opportunity to talk about one of my favorite books of all time: The Missing Piece by Shel Silverstein.

That may not be the most on topic of blogpost choices, but the author was Jewish and so however contrived, it fits. Let’s get at it.

I grew up reading The Missing Piece, and I’ve loved it the whole way. If you haven’t read it yet, I suggest you do so now, or at the very least, watch this video. 

But if you have, you probably know why I love it so. Anyway, a few weeks ago, my students were learning lessons about friendship and poetry, so my teacher-boss taught them The Missing Piece (which I was horrified to see not a single one of them knew about) and had them write what they thought the lesson of the story was.

She told them it was to make friends with all sorts, not just those who seem to fit us perfectly. Not exactly what I think of when I read The Missing Piece. I pointed this out to teacher-boss, to which she asked what I thought the moral of the story was.

After some thought, I answered, “Sometimes wanting is better than having.”

The truth is, I see many morals to this story, but I had chosen to share the most simplistic one, the one kids could understand too. It’s the one I saw in the story as a kid, but not the one I see from the perspective of a newly-grown-up New Yorker looking for her purpose in life.

For me, The Missing Piece is, very simply, about love. Or rather, about the seemingly never-ending search for the “ideal” love. I feel that, especially in our Jewish society, we (especially girls) grow up thinking that we will not be complete until we find a husband, our “Missing Piece” as it were. The feminist in me rages against this notion, but the very strong family-centric Jewish momma-wannabe in me sees its point. G-d help me.

(It’s reluctant to admit it, though.)

The Missing Piece fits perfectly into this viewpoint. While my students read the words out loud, I found myself thinking back on my own past relationships (of which there haven’t been many, but just enough to be frustrating). About the instances where “one was a little too sharp,” or “one held too tightly, and broke,” or “one didn’t hold tightly enough and got lost,” or even the one that “wasn’t anyone’s piece, but its own.” Lord, haven’t we all had those? The one that wouldn’t stop fighting? The one that was too clingy? The one that couldn’t wait to get away? It brings a pain to my chest just thinking about it. Such a simple story, and yet such a deep and relatable message. 

And true, there are those people (you know, the types who just object for the sake of objecting?) who dislike the story and its message, claiming that it's in some way encouraging a lack of commitment. 

But I say forget those guys. This book rocks and you know it. 

Shut it, McHipster. I'm talking.

As much as I love The Missing Piece, the truth is I relate even more to its sequel (that link is the entire book online, so if you haven't read it, do so now), told from the point of view of the piece itself. For some reason I feel like this one takes on, despite its total lack of gender, a more female flavor to it. I know I definitely relate to the piece’s frustration as it recalls “the one that fit, but couldn’t roll” or “the one that didn’t know a thing about fitting”. 

“It tried being flashy, but that frightened away the shy ones,” or “One put it on a pedestal and left it there.” Wow. Every girl has had those. Although I must mention that I've heard some equally bad relationship stories from guys.

*Shudder*... crazy people...

Anyway, rereading The Missing Piece Meets The Big O now after a long time away, I find once again that a children's book has managed to make me think more than a huge tome of philosophy dissertations.

Oh, Shel Silverstein, if you didn’t know everything, this sure makes it look like you did. That whole thing about getting to know and like yourself before you can expect anyone else to? That's pretty much my problem and the problem of so many others summed up by a series of line drawings starring Pacman. That's pretty freaking awesome. 

So what's my point in all this, other than to encourage people to pick up their childhood classics for a reread? Well, mostly to remind others (and myself) that the search may stink, but the likelihood is that it won't go on forever, and until we find what we're looking for, it's best to enjoy the ride. I know that's not easy. Heck, I despair over the search as often as anyone. 

And I could complain about the Shidduch system, or specific bad dates, or over the guy vs. girl expectations, but I won't. At least not here. This is a post about the more cosmic part of singleness. That of being alone. That maybe, for now (and hopefully it IS only for now), the alone-ness might be good for us. We may have to stop and talk to a worm, or smell a flower, or just enjoy our youth with our friends before we can find our missing piece. And during those moments when we feel like we can't take the search for one more day, well... that's why we've got friends in the first place.

...And to stay friends with us even when we get all couple-y and married and stuff. Let's not forget that.

And despite my skepticism when it comes to "everything working out in the end" and there being some perfect Beshert for everyone, I do comfort myself with the thought that perhaps our missing pieces really are out there, not so far away, just waiting for us to turn around and notice them.



  2. Very interesting- great ideas, well written and beautifully illustrated!


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