As I’ve been arranging (and rearranging!) the shells I brought home from the beach recently, I’ve noticed something. Most of them are, shall we say, “slightly less than perfect”. I didn’t go looking for (mostly) broken shells. I just picked up whatever struck me as beautiful at the time.
Finding beauty in brokenness? Is that a thing? As I thought about it, I realized artists have been doing that for millennia in every medium under the sun from the ancient mosaics in the Middle East to the centuries-old Japanese art of Kintsugi, which is the repair of pottery using lacquer dusted with precious metals – gold, silver or platinum, to the incredible pictures my friend Peggy creates in her studio at Project Art using bits and pieces of heirloom jewelry.
And it goes farther and deeper than just taking broken things and turning them into stunning new creations. A variety of adjectives have been used to describe Vincent Van Gogh through the years; broken certainly fits. Yet in and through that brokenness and perhaps at times even in spite or because of it, his paintings left a trail of beauty that continues to inspire, educate, and bring joy. Out of the depths of human suffering, writers, musicians and actors routinely birth exquisite poetry and prose, soul-stirring music, and compelling portrayals that raise awareness, promote understanding, and offer insightful social commentary.
But what about those of us who are not thus engaged? Is there - can we find - beauty in the brokenness of our lives too? Even though I didn’t always recognize it as such in the moment, when I looked back over the season of my life most marked by brokenness, I discovered that beauty was part of that too.
There is a raw beauty evoked when everything extraneous in one’s life is stripped away and things are reduced to their essence. That’s what happened when we were handed that terminal diagnosis and extremely short time frame. Virtually every facet of the life we’d had up to that point unraveled, stopped working, or completely fell apart right in front of us. Everything was laid bare; what was really important came into crystal clear focus and what was not faded away. What was left were the things that meant the most, and what was left at that point (albeit for only a very short time), was us. I hate the circumstances under which it happened but being able to articulate how much we meant to each other was priceless and beautiful beyond description, as were Bill’s words of assurance to us: “Don’t worry about me; I know where I’m going, and I’ll be fine.”
There is beauty in those who roll up their sleeves and, without any fanfare, simply do what needs to be done at the time, particularly when the task is physically and emotionally challenging and less than pleasant. There is beauty in every act of kindness offered, in every prayer uttered.
And there is beauty in being able to laugh, even in the face of death. The bat (mammal, not baseball) that took up residence in the basement and the episode of the Railroad cookies (ask my children about that) provided some much-needed comic relief. And I had to laugh when Bill told me that I should make sure I had a date for the funeral. No, he was not joking. He was trying to tell me, in the only way he could articulate it at the time, that he wanted me to be happy. (In case you’re wondering, no, I did not bring a date to the funeral. And no, we didn’t manage to dispense with the bat either.)
Finding beauty in brokenness. Might this possibility have been part of what the Psalmist was talking about when he penned these words? “…weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning…” and “…You turned my wailing into dancing…” Psalm 30:5, 11, NIV
What do you think? As you define those words, is there – can there be – beauty in brokenness? Have you experienced that yourself?
If so, what form did it take? Was it rooted in a specific act of kindness? Did you experience it as a particular feeling such as joy or assurance or peace or love?
If you could take the brokenness in your life and craft those pieces into a beautiful new creation, what would you make? What would that look like?