I like to puzzle. Often during holidays, our family will put up a card table and put a difficult jigsaw puzzle out to complete over the break. With a cat who clearly knows no boundaries, there is always a risk of a critical puzzle piece missing. What exactly is a “critical” puzzle piece? I would venture to say that every piece of a puzzle is critical.
Autism has for decades been using a puzzle piece as a symbol of the complexity and variations of the challenge of the disability, as well as the importance and value of every person, disability or not. With Autism spanning the spectrum from hi-functioning Asperger’s to those who are non-communicative, the puzzle piece is a good symbol for how each person is shaped differently, and how each fit into the total canvas of life.
Like the jigsaw puzzle, each person is important and necessary to complete a good work. My heart goes out to any parent who suffers to see their child struggle in this judgmental and works-focused world.
A hi-quality puzzle, when completed, can be a piece of art. Some frame the completed work and hang it on the wall. I simply break mine apart and return it into a box, vowing never to rework that same one again. Our COVID puzzle took weeks to complete.
As the puzzle neared completion, one piece haunted me. I could not find that bizarre shape and unique color no matter how many times I searched the diminishing pile of jagged pieces. I started to worry that the piece might be missing. As the last available piece was put into place, my worst fear was realized. One piece was missing!
There is a story of a shepherd who, upon counting his flock of 100 sheep, got to 99 and found one missing. He left behind the 99 to go find the one lost sheep. I have heard that story for years and I wondered who would leave 99 to go after 1? The answer must simply be this. One who knows the intrinsic value of every one of his flock.
In my puzzle, the picture was incomplete. It was worthless to me because 1 of 1,000 went missing. I imagined what that piece looked like. I imagined and wondered where it was.
The piece was useless on its own, its full value realized only within a group of other pieces who were different colors, shapes, and sizes. The picture was not worthy of a frame, it was not even worthy of giving away. It was incomplete.
I think that is why the puzzle piece is such a beautiful image of our worth. Individually, our piece is crooked, the image is useless, it is quite ugly to be honest. BUT, in the totality of life, our twisted piece is as valuable as every other piece.
The world is incomplete with any of its puzzle pieces missing. Together, in unity, our society creates a valuable completed image when we recognize the irreplaceable value and beauty of each unique piece.
Had I guarded my pieces and not let the cat roam on the puzzle, the outcome would have been entirely different. It ate me alive that a piece was missing. I turned the room upside down looking for the missing piece like the shepherd did for his missing sheep. With no other option, I decided to create my own hand-made piece to fill in the void.
I put the piece I had crafted into the vacant spot, not telling anyone that it was home-made and not even telling anyone that I had done it. Comments on me finding the missing piece eventually led me to, days later, fess up that the piece was a fake, fabricated by me. Once they knew the truth and inspected the piece closely, the puzzle lost its beauty and completeness. It no longer fit in.
I concluded that we will always struggle to fight impostors and pretenders throughout our life. We will be told that we need to look a certain way, act a certain way, be educated a certain way, to realize our full value. The never-ending effort to look like others and be like others steals away the real beauty of our uniqueness.
Like the fake puzzle piece in my COVID puzzle, there really is no replacement for you. You are perfectly and wonderfully made, just the way you are. You are not replaceable. We were crafted to be our own, unique, copyrighted signature self. While a faux image of our perfectly fitting self might yield modest results, our replacement will never be all that WE can be.
Know today that you are unique and beautiful in your own twisted and oddly shaped way. Know that you are irreplaceable. Know that you are of extreme value and that without you, life is incomplete.