In my first year of teaching high school, my department head made a flip comment that it was a shame that I’d only be at the school for a few more years. I was teaching at a school that I had hand-chosen as my student teaching location and felt lucky to have been hired on as a teacher when my student teaching was done. But it wasn’t a school in a lot of demand by teachers in our area. In fact, all but two people in my department quit between the time my student teaching assignment finished and the school year began. An ex-Navy Seal was brought in to be the discipline czar to combat the drug lords trying to establish their turf in our back parking lot. There were locker fires set by students. Often. So, when my department head said this to me, I thought she was making a comment about my being soft, and I was offended.
“I plan to be here for years,” I told her. “I love this place. There is not a high school where I could be happier.”
“Oh, Rosie, I know that,” she said. “It’s just you aren’t the kind of person who is going to stay at a place forever. You are going to develop other interests, other people are going to seek your skills. And you’ll get bored. You’ll need to keep challenging yourself, and it is only right to move on when that happens.”
If I was offended when I thought she thought I was soft, well, that was mild compared to what I was feeling now. Because her thinking me disloyal and flakey- which is what I heard at the time- was even worse.
Three years later, I left to pursue a MFA in the hopes that it would improve my teaching while taking a position at a college as the Director of Community Service. And those experiences lead to these experiences and the road that I thought would surely take me back to teaching high school just never did (the fact that I can now go to the bathroom whenever I want and not be at work at 6 am were factors, too, if I’m honest).
I hadn’t thought about that conversation with my department head in years until yesterday when a friend sent me this blog post about the importance of finding your missing link. As I was reading the post, I was thinking about how we sometimes feel that “something is missing” and the importance of that search to find what it is and then the satisfaction of clicking it into place. But as I thought even more about it, I couldn’t help but wonder if part of the point of life’s journey is for something to always be missing- or almost missing. Hang with me for a minute.
When I’ve said “something is missing” in the past, it’s been with disappointment, with a thought that I maybe I took a wrong turn along the way and ended up where I wasn’t supposed to be, that mistakes had been made that I needed to rectify. But when I look at the trajectory of my life- which has turned out so very different from what I imagined when I walked into my classroom 14 summers ago and started decorating it with a vision in mind- I can’t help but notice how every step feels right now with the gift of hindsight- even the ones borne of strife, even ones that weren’t a fit for the long haul but were a hit for that moment in time.
Thinking about this makes me imagine that our lives our gigantic puzzles– 1000s of pieces, let’s say, and we don’t get to the end until we, well, get to the end. So in the interim, we put together our puzzle, we begin to make it all make sense. And sometimes between puzzle clicks, we sit back and enjoy the way the puzzle looks now- maybe we even enjoy the way it looks for three years– until we say, “oh, better get back to work” and look at our remaining pieces, pick one up and figure out where and how it can fit into our grand scheme. Maybe it takes a while to find where the piece goes and what that feels like to us is that uneasy, uncertain, oh damn period where we’re thinking, “Something is missing”. Maybe the piece clicks right in and we don’t even notice that a different scenario is coming into focus until six or seven more pieces are placed in their spots and then we think, “Oh, this is where I was going all along.”
Coming to this realization within the last 24 hours has been a revelation. Suddenly, I feel that at least one piece (and I don’t necessarily just mean professional pieces- I imagine our personal development, our own evolution plays a hand in our puzzle’s picture, too) should always be missing and that that doesn’t mean that I am restless or disloyal, flakey, or in trouble. It just means that I am living, experiencing, enjoying. And it also doesn’t mean that I am not enjoying my life to seek the new piece. In fact, I can see now that there are periods of time where I click a puzzle piece into place and enjoy how it looks, not just for minutes or hours, but for days and months and years. But as long as a life is being lived, there will be more pieces to add to the picture, more experiences to give the photo depth and focus, more to be enjoyed and revealed and given.
Back when I was 22, I wanted it to be so clean, so clear, so easy. You fall in love with a first job and you stay forever. You hitch your star to the love you happen to have at partnering age and you stay forever. You move into your first house and you put down concrete roots. You build a fence that keeps the right things in, the wrong things out. Your trees never fall, lightning never strikes, it’s all just clean. A Polaroid given just once to develop. But life that easy makes you give up a bit of your fight and riddles that easy to decipher don’t hold your interest. The first job- though you loved it- has to be let go so you can learn something more. That love has to be abandoned because you both have other places you need to go- your puzzles are taking you in different directions, even despite your love. The trees do fall. Lightning does strike. You say, for a moment or a year, why me, and then the next piece clicks into place and you suddenly both whisper and scream with glee, “of course.”
Whatever it is you are missing isn’t a mistake. It’s not taunting you. And it won’t solve every problem in your life when you find it. But you will know exactly where it is supposed to go when it finds its way into your palm. It will click for you just as puzzles do, cardboard against cardboard, perfectly snug, soothing for a bit, until you must find the rest of your answer. Again.