Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Beautifully Broken


Marvin took the pot, the one that the student was so proud of, and held it up for all to see.  He praised her for the fine craft she’d employed in the kneading of the clay, explained how that work had enabled her to “throw” a pot with such thin yet strong characteristics.  She was proud of the work, proud of herself, clearly enjoying the notoriety being displayed in front of the other pottery students.

He went on to describe the beauty that she’d brought forth from a small lump of clay, went on to highlight the glazing, the gentle slope of the neck, the fine characteristics of the handle, the gentle coloring towards the base and overall composition; the student basking in the glow of her skill.  Marvin was so enamored by the work, so driven to find each beautiful facet of the pot and explain it with forensic detail in the manner that only a teacher could appreciate, so engaged he was that he held it high for all to see it’s greatness.

Then he let go of it.

The pot in all its glory slowly slipped from his hands, somehow on its own hanging in the air it seemed to lose a bit of its power and majesty.  Passing his chin it looked more awkward than beautiful, by the time it passed his belt – most hearts had stopped.  By the time it reached his knees it looked quite sad, all that unveiled beauty was hidden.  By the time it hit the floor, in everyone’s mind it was no more.  The pot shattered into dozens of sharp, useless shards and the collective horror of the students nearly seemed to make time bend, the potter was in shock.  Hearts were torn, emotions came forth and suddenly the entire room uttered a collective admission that there was a God, made evident by the way they all called on his name with a unanimous “oh my God”!

Everyone was furious with the teacher; how could he be so clumsy with such a beautiful vessel?  What reparations could be made to the potter?  What should the punishment be for such carelessness?  All the descriptions of beauty had ceased, all the praise to the potter had vanished, all the excitement for the possibility had abruptly ended with one small slip of the hand.  Except for the excitement of Marvin.  Quickly, he reached down and grabbed a large chunk of the once elegant pot and with an even bigger smile than before held it up for all to see – “look at the inside” he exclaimed, “its even even more beautiful than the outside”!  He went on to describe for each student how the glazing which had managed to drool down unnoticed into the neck of the pot had formed wondrous patterns and displayed the most incredible contrasts.  His excitement increased as he toed through the broken pieces on the floor.  Not a word was said from any of the students, not a breath had yet been exhaled from the horrified parent of the pot.  Marvin could see a beauty that they could not grasp.  Marvin saw value in what was now viewed as worthless.

He went on for a few more minutes explaining that there was untold beauty on in inside of the pot – explaining this to a confused and dazed group of young students.  Then he stood still for a moment and looked directly at the student who by now was on the verge of tears.  “I did this for a reason” he explained to her.  “The pot was all those things I said, and more but you could not see it and you needed to know it”.  He went on to tell the entire class not to forget that these works of art “are merely things; don’t get carried away with yourself in the process”.

Beautifully broken now were both the pot and the potter.  Sometimes I find myself like that student, horrified that God would dare hold something so beautiful and so precious high above his head and then thoughtlessly, almost carelessly, let it drop and smash for no good reason that I could fathom.  For the truly gifted, the ability to see beauty in broken vessels is an insight into a marvelous new world of wonder.  For those unfortunate ones who cannot see the beauty because they’re not bold enough to allow themselves to be emotionally broken in such a fall, a marvelous gift lies just beyond their reach.  For those who have experienced the fall and the inevitable crash and refuse to see the beauty and thoughtfulness in the breaking, for them the tragedy and injustice will haunt them the rest of their lives.  For those bold few who like the student’s pot, travelled the distance, took the fall and now see beyond their self interest; a world of mystical beauty rewards them. Its not an easy life, in fact the only guarantee is that never again will the overtly precious artifacts in life – the things we cling to, hold the greatest value. Truth be told, the new things in life – the things typically hidden in the shadows will begin to shine with a true light.

Bethany is one of those beautifully broken pots and I, like those students who accepted the challenge have been beautifully broken as well.

Friday, May 17, 2013

A Week in Captivity


I’ve spent the better part of a week with Bethany, caring for her while my wife and son take a much-needed vacation out west, far away from the typical day-to-day actions that we’ve followed for the last 16 years. 

With my wife away, I knew what to expect from Bethany; sleepless nights, overwhelming bouts with obsessive-compulsion, seizures, diapers and wet sheets.  I assumed hours and hours of redirecting her self-injurious behavior and enduring her aggression; twisted fingers, pinched nipples (mine), punched windpipe (mine also).  What I got was deep insight into the personality of a remarkable young woman who seems to be oddly embodied in an awkward package.

Our evenings were calm, our mornings were somewhat orderly, and our interactions were even “precious”.  Granted, mornings had their share of surprise roll-outs; those “ohmygod” moments when you’re changing the brief on a standing 17 year old who you thought only had a wet one.  That flat thud from somewhere behind, of which no other object in the world makes a sound similar?  Yeah, that one – plenty of those accompanied by her sleepy laugh.  “Well played” I say to her as I began to clean up the surprise.  Play me she did, all week long.  In her world, pawns, rooks, and bishops all carry the same insignificant maneuverability – constrained “X” and “Y” movements; Bethany, she moves effortlessly any distance and on the “Z” axis as well.  Can’t beat that kind of chess player!

One evening as I worked on my classic 1966 MGB, tuning the dual carburetors in a cloud of raw gasoline and diagnostic equipment, Bethany strolls out into the garage.  Her attendant wasn’t but a step behind; she walks up to the fender of the car, leans both forearms onto the paint and tilts her head into the engine bay.  The engine was warm and the breeze blowing from the radiator fan blew her hair back giving her a “devil-may-care” look.  Damn, had she been seen in black and white you’d think it was James Dean leaning into the compartment.  All she needed was a cigarette dangling from her lip.  Her eyes, were nothing but slits from the big grin as she looked in my direction and laughed.

“Are you a gear-head”? I asked her over the roar.  She threw her head back and laughed as if she caught the joke and knew better than to answer me with words.  She put more weight on her left leg, causing her hip to tilt upwards while both forearms remained on the fender, leaning forward with her hair blowing back like that – man, she was a 17 year old rock star.  That’s the personality I began to see with a different set of eyes, one that I’d not seen so clearly before.

Of course, after a tune-up there’s the obligatory “flat-out-run” down a desolate road to test the timing under load.  This means you get to pretend like you’re a mechanical scientist doing diagnostic work by turning a rural 50 mph stretch into a 80 mph drag strip.  Speeding with blaring 60’s rock on the radio, windows down, hair flying – all in the name of science.  She loves it.  Loud, fast, illegal, illogical – she smiles as the speed makes the small hump in the road a heart-stopper; the inertia and gravity fighting for the position of your internal organs.  For a moment your lungs, heart and esophagus are all sharing the same cramped area up by your neck, driven there by your stomach which is confused for the moment because it rarely gets invited anywhere above the nipple line. 

We pull back into the garage and turn the key off, the engine seemingly refusing to shut down after such an adrenaline rush continues to run on, clanking and sputtering until she finally dies.  Quiet in the garage with the exception of “ping-ping, tank, ping-ping” coming from the hot headers as they cool down, the sound of warm engine fluids easing back down into their respective pans… “Moie, Mooooie”! she yells, her way of demanding more.

A father-daughter week of the most unusual kind and I find myself thanking God that not only did we live through it, we grew through it.  I find myself using her words as I pack her on the bus the next morning for school; while I’m glad for the respite provided by seeing her go for a few hours, I find myself saying the same words: “Moie, Moooooie”!