I don’t mean Facebook “friends.” I mean real people with whom I frequently spend time talking, working, laughing and crying. These people honor my life with their presence. They inspire me.
One of my friends responded to last week’s post with depth and wisdom, opening me still further to the value and beauty of brokenness. Here is her comment, lightly edited:
I too felt broken, but stronger for it. Because of your “broken pieces” I’m stronger throughout. And as I piece back together into something different, I too take my “broken pieces” and try to help others as you did me. So maybe all our little broken pieces don’t fit together anymore, but we can give those pieces to the next person and it helps start a foundation to put them back together in their new beautiful masterpiece.
What my friend is describing here is the heart of any community: contribution. If we decide to value our brokenness as well as our wholeness, we can offer ourselves without reservation to others. We can contribute everything we are without shame.
We can be authentic.
In my own life, I’ve found more healing and support in the broken pieces others offer me than the shiny new ones. I’m chipped and frayed myself in so many ways, it’s hard to connect with someone who maintains a perfect façade and admits to no flaw, mistake or weakness.
We all know people who hoard every bit of their damage jealously in order to use it as justification for destructive choices and behavior. We also see people taking terrible experiences and making an offering of them to others through example, service or art.
Once again, it boils down to a chocolate-or-vanilla choice. We will certainly experience wear and tear in our lives. What will we do with the fragments? In that respect we have complete power.
The idea of offering our shreds and scraps to one another delights me. Not only am I inspired to greater creative and spiritual possibilities for my own reshaping with broken pieces from others, I can offer remnants that no longer serve me to my community. We can all build and repair foundations together, creating a network of grace, wisdom, and strength.
Perhaps we each have a broken piece someone is looking for, and some stranger we have yet to meet has a piece we need.
Last week’s post was one of my broken pieces, offered with a slight shudder, as always. I still, after more than 200 posts, have a hard time pushing the “publish” button. There’s still a small voice in my head that tells me I’m worthless, I have nothing to offer, and everything I think, feel, say, do and write is wildly inappropriate, inadequate, or (worst of all) is displeasing someone I love.
I do it anyway, because writing is what I do.
But when someone steps forward and fits one of their jagged, ragged, splintered edges against one of mine, I’m touched to the heart and my faith in myself and the enduring power of the human spirit is renewed.
I recently reread Broken For You by Jan Karon. The last time I picked it up was years ago, when I was living a different life in a different place. I loved it then, but this time it spoke to me more profoundly. I was captivated by the suggestion that things, including people, might be more valuable broken than whole.
Then, in an idle moment, I picked up one of my Mary Oliver books and read this:
Isn’t it plain the sheets of moss, except that they have no tongues, could lecture all day if they wanted about
spiritual patience? Isn’t it clear the black oaks along the path are standing as though they were the most fragile of flowers?
Every morning I walk like this around the pond, thinking: if the doors of my heart ever close, I am as good as dead.
Every morning, so far, I’m alive. And now the crows break off from the rest of the darkness and burst up into the sky – as though
all night they had thought of what they would like their lives to be, and imagined their strong, thick wings.
Again, the theme of breaking, this time breaking darkness into black wings.
I’ve been thinking about breaking as I harvest from the garden this weekend. The tomato plants are heavy with fruit, bent and sprawling above the basil and parsley, straggling over the garden borders into the grass. The tomatoes on the ground are gratefully received by slugs and beetles, as well as some kind of gnawer – no doubt a rodent. Our resident chipmunk is my prime suspect.
I don’t mind, though. I have an abundance, and it gives me pleasure to share. I picked everything that was ripe, harvested oregano and basil, and made a crock pot of spaghetti sauce yesterday, discarding the spoiled tomatoes in the compost, which will, in time, feed other gardens in other years.
As I chopped the herbs into thin, fragrant ribbons and the tomatoes into juicy chunks, I thought about broken things. Well, not things. Not objects. Things are just things. They’re not life. They’re not real identity, although we try hard to make them so.
I thought about broken hearts, shattered dreams, disillusionment, loss of innocence, disappointed hopes, violated trust. I thought about broken promises made to ourselves and others and fractured relationships with ourselves and others.
Objects break, but the more painful breaks are intangible. Objects can be replaced. How do we manage intangible breaks?
Sometimes a broken object can be pieced back together, but it’s never quite the same again.
But what if we made something new with the broken pieces? What if we let go of the old shape of whatever broke and spent the night thinking about what we want to make or be now with the broken pieces of what we were yesterday?
Some things endure: a seed, a bone, love, life, and death. Death most of all, because without it there can be no seed or bone, and no life. In time, everything breaks, and then breaks down, and then becomes something new.
Breaking then, need not be a catastrophe or a message that we are victims of malign fate, but an invitation to reshape ourselves and our lives into something greater, something wiser, something winged.
Fractures, chips, and cracks are inevitable in life. Nothing stays young and unblemished. Time and entropy sweep us along. As I approach my sixties, I find myself more and more grateful for all my broken places. From those places I write, and from those places I love. Each of those broken pieces has made me into a juicier, more complex whole.