One Day: How our missing pieces find us

I said good-bye to the home I grew up in. I cleaned out every closet. I threw out my high school planners and parted ways with paper after paper from undergrad. I laughed out loud as I read the notes my best friend and I passed back and forth in eighth grade—then I tossed them too. On my last day, I snapped pictures of every room and cried as I walked out the front door. My mom and dad sat in the old Buick waiting to drive me to the airport.

My son didn’t get to say goodbye to his first home. He was too little when we adopted each other. Even with my ability to speak his native tongue, he could never have fully grasped the magnitude of the change that was swirling around him the morning we rode to the airport. Yet, he holds that ending in every cell in his body. It is there in his muscle memory. In the way he sucks his thumb when we look at pictures from his earliest years. In the softness of his voice when he asks me to tell him again the story of how we became a family.    

My son has missing pieces. We all do. They are the parts of our story—and ourselves—that we don’t yet know or understand about our childhood, the intricacies of our parents’ relationship, the places where we belong. I’ve spent years searching for my own pieces, convinced that once I found them I would be a different person. But more often than not, they found me—leaving me stunned by the elegance in which the missing pieces made themselves known, often as if they had been there all along.

I wish I had known that in my thirties. I did not feel well for most of that decade. I masked it as best I could, but I never wanted to hang out after work or go dancing on a Friday night. I was almost always asleep by 8 p.m. My body felt more like a worn-out mop than a woman in her prime. My friends started to notice. “You don’t seem like yourself. Are you alright?” they’d inquire. “I don’t know,” I’d reply. “But something is wrong.” A litany of possibilities would soon follow—anemia, mono, autoimmune deficiency. Everyone had their theories.

All I knew was my body was off its rhythm. At 34, my menstrual cycle started skipping: two months, then three, one month, then five. I couldn’t understand it any more than I could predict it. My doctors all said the same thing: stress. Things will go back to normal they assured me. They ran tests to rule out the big stuff—thyroid, diabetes, a tumor on my pituitary gland. But no one measured my hormones. They weren’t even mentioned. Neither was premature menopause.  

I started acupuncture, drank bitter Chinese herbs, and searched desperately to find an explanation and a way back to vitality. I held my nose and gulped down smoothies full of enzyme complexes and probiotic blends. Never one to willingly eat my greens, I read several books on nutrition and tried to overhaul my diet, rummaging through my kitchen cupboards and pulling out an old aluminum vegetable steamer that fans out like a basket.

I tried hard to keep up with all my initiatives. I hung inspirational quotes on my refrigerator and kept tally marks of how many times I exercised. I devoured articles on how other women healed their bodies and convinced myself that I had it all figured out. Week after week I slid half-moon slices of zucchini and yellow squash into my steamer. Sliced carrots and red peppers followed. The array of colors always soothed me.  

But after two years of searching nothing substantial had changed. I still wanted my health back. I wanted the feeling of depletion to go away. I wanted to be normal, to feel energized and happy. When the fated medical verdict came weeks after my 37th birthday, I understood that I was not in control of the answers. Let alone, when or how missing pieces got reclaimed. Early menopause had already happened. There was nothing I could do to change it back.

In one last attempt to understand my body, I met with a medical intuit. I remember sitting in her tiny wood-paneled office, seriously reconsidering my decision, when her words shifted something deep inside of me. “What your body did,” she said, “that was a rescue mission.” The thought that premature menopause and infertility could be anything other than awful had never occurred to me. “A rescue mission from what?” I asked. But, of course, that was not hers to say.  

Only from the vantage of years can I see how that unexpected loss rescued more than one missing piece—writing, spiritual direction, motherhood. They are some of the most natural parts of who I am; they bring me my greatest joy. I now understand that what I chased after in my thirties are aspects of the inner knowing we are all born with, that most sacred place within us that aches for us to live into the fullness of who we are. Perhaps that is why we search: in the hope that one day our losses will turn golden in the sun.  

Watching my parents enter a new phase of their lives and nearing my own half-century mark, I feel a sudden urge to once again go running after all those pieces of myself that got lost in the demands of motherhood. What do I do with my career? How do I leverage my gifts? What do I want to be known for? Only this time, instead of chasing them down, I’m going to embrace the sacred wisdom that is already in me—and the peace of this unknowing time, trusting that one day, this too will turn golden.