Finding Beauty in Brokenness

In The Woman Who Watches Over the World, Chickasaw novelist and essayist Linda Hogan speaks to the vulnerability inherent to storytelling:

“To open our eyes, to see with our inner fire and light, is what saves us. Even if it makes us vulnerable. Opening the eyes is the job of storytellers, witnesses, and the keepers of accounts. The stories we know and tell are reservoirs of light and fire that brighten and illuminate the darkness of human night, the unseen. They throw down a certain slant of light across the floor each morning, and they throw down also its shadow.”

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The stories we know and tell. Could it be that easy to throw down the shadows of despair and doubt? This is something I’ve been thinking about quite often as I’ve been struggling to emerge from a place of pain and fear, the lingering trauma of a freak accident at the beginning of summer.

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“Fire, like pain, like love, is a power we do not know,” Hogan continues. “Yet from the ashes of each, something will grow. No one knows if it will be something beautiful and strong. But in our lives it is sometimes the broken vessel, as writer Andre Dubus calls it, that spills the light.”

I am a broken vessel, even though time is slowly healing my wounds. However, patience has never been a strong suit of mine and, not even a month into recovery, I pushed myself to a point where I created even more damage to a body and mind already weakened by trauma. There came a moment where I had to accept the limits of a broken body. There came a moment when I needed to take the words of T.S. Elliot to heart: “I said to my soul be still and wait… So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.” And I waited.

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Now three months to the day of the accident that nearly destroyed me, body and soul, I am finally moving forward. This time, I’m attempting to be kind to myself. I am attempting to be patient. These are not easy things for me to do, especially as I feel the press of time and the uncertainty that comes with more surgeries on the horizon.  I still struggle with pain and my limitations (both cognitive and physical) each day, but I have hope that I will emerge from this storm stronger than ever before.

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive,” writes novelist and essayist Haruki Murakami. “You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”

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I am attempting to embrace my brokenness and the things I have learned from these months of forced quietude. People have shown me kindness I didn’t even know existed. I was so trapped by my darkest fears, I almost missed the opportunities presented through doors that opened up during this greatest time of need.

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One of the most beautiful things that came from this time of dark despair was in the interaction with Greg Hartman, a Colorado writer who I met a few years ago.  He showed his teenage daughter a side-by-side photo comparison of what I looked like with and without makeup just a month after the accident. After a long moment, she said she preferred the photo without the makeup. When her father asked why, she said, “I think scars are beautiful. They show who you are and your history.”  This girl I had never met shared the wisdom I needed to begin the journey past preconceived notions of beauty and self-worth.

A few years ago, I became fascinated with the art of kintsugi (or kintsukuroi). This art form centers on a Japanese method for rejoining the pieces of broken ceramics with an adhesive lacquer mixed with precious metals such as gold, silver, and platinum. “When the Japanese repair broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold,” writes artist Barbara Bloom. “They believe that when something has suffered damage and has a history, it becomes more beautiful.”

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Contemporary Korean artist Yee Sookyung expands on the concept with an explanation of her own process:

“The master potter was trying to create the perfect piece each time, and he would discard even the ones with the slightest flaw. So I chose to create new forms from them, because perhaps, I don’t believe completely in that kind of perfection.

“To me, a piece of broken ceramic finds another piece, and they come to rely on one another. The cracks between them symbolise the wound. The work is a metaphor of the struggle of life that makes people more mature and beautiful as they overcome their sufferings.”

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This is the place I now find myself in. I will never look the same as I used to. I have been broken, shattered, and then pieced back together. Although I have been broken by violence in the past, those wounds are hidden. This time there is no hiding the scars. They have changed the landscape of my face and body. They have transformed me. And now it’s time to stop waiting. It’s time to emerge from the darkness. It’s time to embrace the light that is starting to seep through the cracks. For now, that will have to be enough.

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“The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” –A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway.

Images: the shadows we follow, the song of time, phoenix, we are infinite, guiding lights, let loose the curious being by Brooke ShadenKintsugi Head 1 by Billie Bond, Expansion by Paige BradleyTranslated Vase by Yee Sookyung. All Rights Reserved by the artists.