I took a sip of water after brushing my teeth and was surprised when my lip was grazed by a rough spot. I held the ceramic glass close and examined it. There was a minute crack less than a quarter-inch long; it lay along the edge, marring the smooth, shiny glaze. Now it threatened to crumble under the force of my gaze. As I examined the lush blues and greens that graced the form and vibrant golden circles that marked one side, disappointment rose up. My fingers touched the crack where the loosened chip was and it fell to the floor. Thoughts of repairing it were silenced by thoughts ranging from: “I can find another pretty one at the ceramics art fair this spring” to “It’s just a ceramic glass, not an heirloom–it isn’t that important” to “Why does everything I love break?”
This has become a common refrain. It seems as though many possessions have met fates I had not foreseen.
Less than a month before another handmade glass had cracked. It was a pale water-green—celadon– porcelain beauty that I had found at another art fair. It had been one of a matched set; my husband was given the other one and still sat upon the bathroom vanity, unscathed and appreciated. I wondered about the longevity of the latest ceramic vessel that was on my bedside table. Imprinted on the white and blue side is one word in pale red: cup. I treasure it; my artist daughter gave it to me.
I could list a couple dozen other items that have cracked, ripped, crumbled and unraveled. There have been several earrings that have disassembled when I wasn’t looking and just disappeared. A prized blue topaz ring I enjoyed for years was only a band with an empty mount when I got out of my car one day. It had been intact when I got in, or so I believed; the stone was never recovered. A crystal bell once belonging to my mother smashed after falling for no discernible reason. And a favorite hand-blown glass candle holder snapped in half when grandchildren strayed too close in their exuberant play. There was my cello, which was crushed almost beyond recognition when a moving company failed to secure it well. Then there were the dozen paintings. The canvasses had been removed from their stretchers and rolled up for safe keeping, then stored in the lower level of a carriage house in which I lived. A massive thunderstorm swept in during the night, the room flooded and the paintings were ruined. They were my paintings; each one was a kind of awakening and no longer preserved.
The earliest objects lost or broken always brought me to tears. They were lean years when, as a young mother of five, the few beautiful objects I had were either gifts or treasures passed on by family, like gold filigree earrings (one lost) from Spain that my parents gave me after their trip. Each loss felt like a small blow as I surveyed the humble life I lived; I felt a little shame as I longed for mere things. I had not been raised to lust after material things. My own parents’ home was modest but held lovely things imbued with memories. I understood even as a child that the most important things are those that were rich with meaning. Most often those were books, music, something handmade or unique, things that felt like blessings.
When the last ceramic glass broke and I groaned, “Why does everything I love get broken?”, my husband asked, “What do you think this is really about?” I didn’t like his response but I thought about it.
The first fact I considered is that much of what I like is breakable. I am drawn to pottery, objects made of glass, carefully crafted jewelry, fabrics that may be likely to fray, pull or stain easily when water dashes it. Hanging in the window is a delicate crystal bird. There are photos and lively cards from children that festoon the frame of a large mirror in one room; sometimes they fall out, get ripped or marred. But visual intrigue, that is a variety of color, texture and design, attracts me. And the few things I own, I have come to value. Either I should better protect them or accept they are perishable. Or purchase items that are guaranteed to not break, corrode, tear, shrink, or otherwise malfunction. Which is not my preference.
The second thought is simply that although I have gathered some possessions, the simple odds are that many of them will simply not make it until I am old enough to while away the days in an easy chair. Even when the lifespan of an object is long, it can have a proclivity for vanishing when you least expect it. But there aren’t many that are crucial to my happiness. In fact, although some might determine I have few possession of worth, I often feel there is a surfeit of things that clutter my life. Most of what I can see in my home can be done away with, and I have spells when I go on a rampage and clear out the clothes closets for donation, remove miscellaneous things from high shelves and trash them, load up bags of well-used or unsatisfactory books for resale. A surprising peace settles in the cleaner, emptier spaces. I feel light again. As things leave my home one way or another, I am ultimately not very distressed.
So I consider what I always have left. Books royally command this home and CDs and the stereo enjoy up a prominent space. And many areas are devoted to photographs of up to five generations of our families. Which reminds me, my camera is one of my prized possessions. I keep it close at hand and take care with it. My cello, with me since age twelve, sleeps in its hard black case in a corner. It was rescued by my father’s gifted hands after the devastation. The turquoise afghan my mother made long ago graces a chair. My husband’s resonant guitars await his touch. Pictures my grandchildren have made are kept a long while. There are the recordings of one daughter singing and works of art my son and another daughter have made. Cards from all five kids over the years are secreted away in the middle drawer of my ponderous desk. And my own writing is organized in files and boxes; current works are in haphazard stacks near the desk. I would rather not see any of these disposed of any time soon. Yet if all was swept away, I think I would be alright with it in the end. Having had little many years and then finally a bit more, it is evident to me that things don’t have a high place on my list of priorities. I can let those go, have even left them behind as I have moved place to place over the years. Needs would get met again.
It occurs to me that it’s my life I don’t want lost or broken anymore, yet as soon as the words land on this page I know the frail hope of such a desire. I know what has come before this day; the future will bring challenges again. For I have experienced cracks and chips and brokeness in every way over the years. I have endured health problems that have brought me to a grinding halt. I have experienced near death more than once and lived to tell the tales. There have been marriages and friendships that have failed due to faulty expectations, mistaken identities, poor timing, excess baggage, waning interest. Failure of faith has visited me more than I imagined, although since childhood I have lived and breathed a core-deep belief in God. Fear has nevertheless rendered me helpless to my profound consternation. Despair has at times whittled away self-worth, and in its place came the long, lonely descent into the bitter heart of self-abnegation. The price for staying alive has seemed very high at times when I had not yet learned how to hold on to what matters most and let go of what matters least. Before I learned to live free of whatever was keeping me from peace.
If I know what damage is, I know also the power of reprieve and renewal. It can happen when least expected, a phone call from a dear friend, the sight of a trillium blooming in the muck, a sweet song from years ago coming forward and escaping from my lips. Freedom for me is discovering that loss is temporary despite tenacious pain, woundedness can fully heal, and familiar people will leave while new people with their stories will arrive. What is resisted is often the lesson most needed. It is about forgiveness. It is about joy despite the grief we hate to feel but which can become holy. I have many times lost my liberty to people, to circumstance, to forgetfulness of Spirit. But the way back has been lit with beacons held out by many hands, some unseen or unknown at the time.
The truth is, whatever I can hold close, whatever I care about may become broken. It can be lost. But it may also lead to freedom and discovery despite mad random events or my expectations. Even love of surprising incarnations.
All this gratitude came from a broken cup. Do you see what I mean?