I am not terribly clumsy and yet I have a way of breaking things. Now, I am not the artist that my cousin Stan was. When we were boys, I dreaded seeing Stan, who was a few years younger than I, come to our house because he would want to play with my toys and any toy that Stan touched broke. Notice I did not say that Stan broke it because that would be neither true nor fair; it was more like magic—if he touched it, it broke. He just had the gift.
I don’t break a lot of things but when I do break something, it usually belongs to someone I love. I don’t always hurt the ones I love, but I tend to break things that belong to the ones I love.
Tuesday night I broke a pilgrim. My good wife has two Pilgrim figurines, one male and one female—Mr. & Mrs. Pilgrim, I guess—that she sets out every year at this time, these being the days leading up to Thanksgiving. So the other day she placed them on the counter behind the kitchen sink; our sink is located on a bar so there is open air behind it that leads directly to the floor. I was putting a glass in the sink and, rather than walk the four extra steps required to get to the front of the sink, I reached over the counter from behind the sink and—without incident, I might add—placed the glass in the sink.
I knew where she was coming from. Her sister Jean has a bunch of old stuff and sometimes she gives Debra some of it; if it’s a nice old platter or something else fragile I’m very likely to break it, so I try to avoid them.
In this case she was kidding because those Pilgrim figurines are not valuable in any sense of the word—they didn’t cost a lot of money and they don’t have any sentimental value (she doesn’t even remember where she got them, much less how much they cost), and it wasn’t a major award. I mean, it’s not like I broke one of her precious Precious Moments figurines—I never go anywhere near the curio cabinet they’re in. I picked up the pieces of the shattered Pilgrim and she looked at them and said, “It’s ok. It’s just a thing. And I can glue it back together.”
He looked like he was going to cry. “I guess I can’t have anything,” he muttered, and he turned and walked away. Now, Daddy wasn’t usually like that about things; obviously something else—probably lots of something else—was going on that I didn’t know about. The breaking of the mirror adjusting thing felt to him that day for some reason like the last straw; I suppose it was symbolic of other losses he was experiencing or dreading. He was able to get it fixed and after he did he told me that it was no big deal—but it sure did seem like it at the time, although I did not, and still do not, understand why.
The fact, though, is that in relationships things get broken. The further fact is that it is in our closest relationships that the most meaningful things get broken. The risk of brokenness is one of the prices we pay for our close sharing of life with each other. The still further fact is that what we do with the things that get broken matters.
John Claypool told a story about a five-year-old boy who at his kindergarten made, with his teacher’s help, a clay ashtray as a Christmas gift for his pipe-smoking father. They molded the clay into a shape approximating an ashtray, painted it his father’s favorite color, and fired it in a kiln. After the kindergarten’s Christmas program, the boy ran to get the gift-wrapped ashtray for his father and, running down the hall, dropped it. It hit the floor, shattering within the wrapping paper. The boy sobbed inconsolably. His father told him not to cry; “It doesn’t make any difference,” he said. But his mother knew better. She held her son in her arms and cried with him. Then she said, “Let’s pick up the pieces and take them home and see what we can make of what is left.”
It is, like everything else, finally all about grace. Things get broken. We pick up the pieces, take them home, and see what we can make of what is left. And because of grace, what can be made of the pieces can be more worth having than what had previously seemed “perfect.”
“I guess I can’t have anything.” Sure you can. It’s just that after it gets broken you have to fix it and then you have to live with the cracks in it.
What my good wife said of the broken Mr. Pilgrim applies to us and of our relationships, too: “The cracks will give him character …”