Broken Places

It looked like a simple, sturdy brown box. Its unremarkable brown color just added to the everydayness of it.

It really was no one's fault. No one could have guessed the treasures that little box contained.

No one could have known that a mother had painstakingly wrapped thirty years' worth of memories, thirty years' worth of collected Christmas ornaments, thirty years' worth of moments: impossibly tiny ceramic Baby's First Christmas shoes. Ballet slipper remnants of childhood dreams. Wedding photos held in delicately carved rose frames. Piece by priceless piece the mother wrapped them all.

No one could have known that she had cradled the brown canvas box in her hands through two plane rides, through security checkpoints, through customs check-ins, all to deliver it to her daughter living in Guatemala. All to watch her daughter's eyes overflow with the tears only sentiment and thirty years' worth of Christmas-collecting moments could bring.

No one could have known that, in the flurry and chaos and unsupervised stacking and packing that only a move to a new home could bring, a kind teenager who was simply following directions would grab the brown box and toss it to his friend waiting on the pickup truck. Or that his friend would miss. That the box would fall with a sickening crunch to the ground.

The box would be shoved away in the house, stashed in the To Be Needed At Some Point But I Cannot Deal With It Now pile. Until the December evening arrived. Until the little open-air market-purchased tree was ready to be transformed, to be layered with the memories that made it beautiful. Until the box was opened and the shattering was discovered.

There were more tears that night, but not for reasons of Christmas Joy. Instead, amidst the tears, there were plain plastic balls hooked on the tree in place of the babies' framed photos. And the box was put aside.

Every year, when that December evening rolls back around again, and the tree is waiting to receive its sparkle and shine, we unpack those broken pieces. I hold the delicate, crack-etched porcelain memories in my hand, and my heart squeezes with a new kind of emotion. I see the lines where my husband used every kind of gorilla glue and adhesive he could find to attempt repairs. I run my finger down the faces put back together, the eyes not quite matching up and the holiday words a bit off-center, and my eyes well up at the new kind of beauty I see.

I recently read an essay on the Japanese art form known as kintsugi. According to the story, when a gorgeous piece of pottery, a bowl, a plate, something meant to be lovely, is shattered; when it breaks through the hands that hold it to become shards at one's feet, an entirely new beauty emerges. Those pieces, instead of being thrown into a bin, being discarded, becoming useless, begin their metamorphosis. The cracks, the very places of brokenness, are filled with gold: precious, glowing, illuminating gold. And a new piece is born, a piece in which the very places of breaking become, instead of something to be hidden or covered up or filled in, the most beautiful parts of the whole.

There is gold in the broken places. There is value in the shattering. There is beauty in the broken.

We have all been broken. We all have lines carved upon our hearts. Yet when we begin to tiptoe into the wide-open space of knowing this: That the very places of our greatest pain become shimmering, shining redemption, become gold. Then there is healing.

When we hold our broken pieces up to the sun and see the precious lines of gold running through our brokenness: There is healing that offers wholeness.

There is healing when we hold in our hands new pieces of pottery, new gold-streaked bowls and platters, no longer useless, but open to be piled high with bounty, enough for us to share.

There is healing when the brokenness is no longer hidden, but shines with the glory of redemption.

There is healing when the lights of the tree shine through the cracks in the ornaments, reminding us that life is not only pieced-together perfect moments, that the most valuable parts of ourselves often are a result of our shattering.

Whether your cracks are new and fresh or old and brittle, they can be filled with gold. They can become places where your pain, instead of being pushed to the corners, swept into the dark places, turns into the very lines where light and love and a new kind of wholeness shines through....enough for others, enough for ourselves.

("Kintsugi" concept as described in "Chasing Slow," Erin Loechner, 2017)