Monthly Archives: May 2011

The man from Cape Town


holding handsMy daughter bought a ceramic lizard at the Farmer’s Market last summer that she proudly and prominently displayed on the book shelf in the living room.  It was quite pretty; about four inches long, painted a brownish-blue with a shiny glaze.  But one day I broke it as I was dusting.  I tried to super glue the jagged, broken pieces back together, but it looked terrible.  I showed it to her, explained what I had done, apologized…and threw it away, disgusted with my handiwork…and my mistake.  A few days later, I was reading an article on Japanese culture I happened to stumble upon during one of my Google Reader-writer’s block-but -really-wasting -time-and avoiding-work-afternoon.  Did you know when the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold?  They believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.

When something has suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.  That. Hit. Home.

We have all made mistakes and have suffered damage to our pride, our egos, our very souls.  JK. Rowling said, ” …some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” If given the choice would any among us live, and die in the perfect emotional, physical, and spiritual envelope in which we are born so as to never experience pain or loss?  If so, how then would we empathize with the pain and loss of others?   Our lack of empathy would be our demise, no doubt.

I lost a dear friend recently, one of the kindest, most generous people I have ever known.  But not before we had a serious and bitter disagreement that was left unresolved.  To say I was broken is accurate.  The grief, I was sure, was more than I could bear.  I drew on all the times I was convinced I could not complete the arduous task of putting one foot in front of the other.  I healed then.  I’ll heal now.  But how do I get from here…to there?  I am doing all the things I am supposed to do.  I spoke to another friend who had suffered a similar loss.  I strove to get by one day at a time.  I prayed.  I repeated uplifting and strength inducing mantras.  I read numerous colon to molar self help articles, following link after link to find some sort of insightful and brilliant advice to inspire me and ameliorate my situation.  And I cried.  I cried a lot.  When I was alone I let the grief in all it’s ugly, strangling power take it’s merciless hold and I yelled, I cried, I screamed and I shook my fist at my creator.  I let it out…more than once.  And I began to move on.  I picked up, and am still picking up, the pieces and am putting them back together, just as I have done many times before.  You can see the cracks; the old and new.  There are jagged, sharp edges where some pieces are lost forever.  Am I weaker?  No.  Am I more beautiful?   Am I more empathetic?  Am I stronger?  Yes.

Today was a bad day.  I guess you could say I had reverted back into my grief, but as I do not have the luxury of random breakdowns and being alone and wallowing in self pity, I simply kept up as stony a facade as I could and plodded through my day at a job where the public and all its demands take up the bulk of my day.

Today was also the day I met an elderly man from Cape Town, South Africa.  His coat seemed too big on his tiny frame, his fedora style hat, crooked.  With his white beard and mustache and wire framed glasses, he looked like the caricature of the absent minded professor.  He looked disheveled with a mess of crumpled papers in his hand and as he made eye contact and  approached where I was standing, I thought, “Oh, no…I cannot handle a conversation of pleasantries and repeating myself to some deaf, old man.  Not today.  I just can’t.” He said hello, and when he spoke, I was instantly intrigued, mainly by his accent.  But more than that, I just wanted to be near him. He was not from here.  I asked where he was from, how he ended up in Kentucky.  I listened as he told me where he was from, that he had been here for years, studied here on scholarship, and married a “beautiful American girl” fifty some years ago! He even showed me an old black and white photo of her.  He was right. She was beautiful.

Our conversation, poignant only because it allowed me a few moments of freedom from the mental prison of my own dwellings, my own thoughts, my own self pity.  I was the happiest I had been in days, only because I got to listen to a soft spoken elderly man tell me his life story in about 15 minutes. Before the conversation was over we were actually standing only a foot apart and chatting like we  had known each other for years.  As our conversation neared an end, he looked at me with his watery blue eyes and smiled.  He really seemed to look at me, the first real eye contact I’ve been able to make with anyone for days without falling apart, and he said, “I hope when you go home, you have a better day.”  I was shocked.  I told him nothing of my life, not one bit of personal information and really enjoyed his talking to me.  How did he know?  He didn’t know the specifics of my burden.  He didn’t have to.  He knew pain.  His age and wisdom and whatever he has ever had to overcome gave him the ability to see suffering, to be really attuned to another human being, a stranger,  and to offer a kind word.  That is why we are here.  That is why we are all still here.

I told my 11 year old daughter about the kind stranger from Cape Town.  She said, “Sometimes you just have to find those people, mom, and talk to ’em.”  “No,” I told her.  “I think he found me.”  }l{

It is no sin to stretch out your hand to the fallen…

broken bowl