Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Beauty In The Broken

Beauty In The Broken

Staggering into the kitchen on a morning last week, still sleepy from too late a hour with an absorbing book, I lifted the domed lid off the china biscuit jar that houses Edward’s morning treats, and it slipped from my hands like sand - falling onto the floor and breaking apart not unlike Mr. Dumpty himself.  Edward and I stared - me stunned, him sorrowful - at the wreckage that lay at our feet.  I carefully gathered up the pieces and carried them like a supplicant to the one person I knew who could, like magic, return them to their original state.

You see, The Songwriter has an amazing talent, apart from his storied ability with lyric and song.  He can glue anything back together.  This astonishing knack was no doubt forged in the fires of childhood when he, being a boy, had the unfortunate, but typical, tendency to break decorative objects with a high degree of regularity.  One such item, an antique transferware plate, was shattered one afternoon - perhaps the victim of a wayward guitar neck - but so expertly was it glued back together - each tiny shard fitted in with the finesse of an artist - that his mother didn’t even notice until years and years later.
“Hey, who broke this plate?”
“Mother!  That happened twenty-five years ago!”
Decidedly too late for punishment.

As I sit here now looking at this newly, and meticulously, glued biscuit jar dome, marveling at the remarkable resemblance to its perfect former self, it occurs to me how often I consider something broken to be of little use and what an obvious mistake that is.  Oh, the monetary value may have decreased somewhat.  Antiques Roadshow teaches us that.  But is the beauty really so diminished?   

Several years ago, on a bright autumn afternoon, I stood in Lady Chapel at Wells Cathedral.  The sun poured through the fabled stained glass windows like wine, splashing rich colour all over the stone floors at my feet.  I stood with my head thrown back, awestruck by the massive magnificence of those windows, with a myriad of iridescent jewels reflected in my eyes.  
I had never seen windows so beautiful.
Gradually, I became aware of a tiny, tweed-suited gentleman standing quietly at my elbow.  I turned to meet his smiling face and he began to tell me the story of the windows.   All save one had been destroyed centuries before by Puritan soldiers on a window smashing rage.  Their hideous rampage had reduced the brilliant Holy pictures to smithereens, as though a giantess had spilled her entire jewelry box on the dusty floor of the earth.  In acknowledgment of their limitations, the craftsmen who restored the windows did not even attempt to recreate them in their original form, instead constructing new windows from the jagged shards of what had been.  
And I had not even noticed.  
Such was the beauty of the windows before me. 

And I now understood why I felt such wonder standing beneath those glorious windows.   In the loss of their ancient narratives, with only fragments of ecclesiastical colour left behind, I was now free to see myself within them.  They had become more personal somehow.  Through them, my own imperfect life, with all its blessings and mysteries, seemed to shine back at me.  These windows welcomed me, included me, in this consecrated place as the others, unbroken and pristine, could never have done. 
A little bit of wisdom was carried home in my pocket that day.

From stained glass to biscuit jars, broken lives to broken hearts. 
 I always wish for the imagination to see beyond what used to be.
 To wait for, to anticipate, the beauty that just may come.


  1. Your post brought back memories of damaging something of value of my parents & sneakingly repairing it. I had to snicker while reading.

    I have quite often found treasures at a steal because others found a nick or a crack worthy of making the object of less value or beauty. I found items like much more interesting and never did it take away from the value to me.

    I guess in reality I've always shied away from perfection. It seems to always disappoint or be unobtainable to me.

    Lovely post Pamela ~ deb

  2. My son's girlfriend of three years broke up with him last Wednesday and he is the broken one trying to work past the pieces to see the beauty beyond this moment.

    It's so much easier if it's a piece of porcelain or glass but so much harder when it's a heart.

    BTW - I had no idea you were in Atlanta. I don't know why but for some reason, I thought you lived in a cottage by the sea. Oh how your writing makes me visualize - even your location!!!!

  3. fabulous post! I'm a time worn junkie - I would rather buy thrift and used then new and all of my favorite things are my oldest most worn items - my ten year old levis that are more like extreme comfy pajama bottoms now:)

  4. What a lovely post! and I can imagine that moment when the cookie dome left your hands and you know it's going to shatter ~ too late!! I left a door open on a too windy day and a beautiful vase sitting on an antique sewing~ machine in the hallway, tumbled to the floor before my very eyes. I have restored it more or less, not like Mr Songwriter would have done but it is even more precious to me now ~ it has a history, shall I dare say , a few scars and blemishes! even lovlier than before!

  5. One of the joys of blogging is finding kindred spirits. Now my little accumulation of damaged figurines, saucers without cups, tea pots without lids, cracked milk jugs,etc,is validated. I can't bring myself to thow away even a shard of Spode or Doulton,
    but I recently met a mosaic artist who will repurpose them in her creations...only those that I can let go of course.
    I love the story of the stained glass window.

  6. A beautiful philosophy Pamela, framed in exquisite words. It's as if Beauty cannot be destroyed, - it may be hidden away from us through disaster but rises again like the Phoenix to delight us once more.

  7. Oh yes, Pamela! The story of the stained glass windows brought tears to my eyes. And what a great lesson, indeed. Broken hearts and broken lives can be mended to be all the more glorious.

  8. Oh Pamela...beautiful words! So so true. What a gift, privledge to be able to see the beauty in the imperfect.

  9. Pamela do you know the Kenneth Koch poem 'One Train May Hide Another"? ...about waiting long enough to see what else is behind something at first presented.
    "One doctor, one ecstacy, one illness, one woman, one man,
    May hide another.
    Pause to let the first one pass..." reads the poem, and indeed one stained glass window also has its story. How wonderful the man was there to explain the history to you!!

  10. mmmm . . . this is lovely, Pamela. A dear friend of mine shared a poem with me about a piece of a broken beer bottle and all that it had witnessed as people passed it by. It's an astonishing piece about brokenness. But the final line haunts me:
    "And I remember that god loves broken things."
    I remind myself of that line when I feel broken beyond repair.
    What a gift that Songwriter had. What a multiplicity of gifts!

  11. Such a beautiful way to reflect upon life through the brokenness of the biscuit jar's lid, to the destruction and, dare I say resurrection of the windows? That we should all find those in our lives, like your Songwriter, that have learned to piece the broken bits of life together into something stronger in the end.

    Now, done waxing poetic, I had to chuckle at the time passed before the broken object of your Songwriter's younger years was discover.

    Lovely post as always.

  12. Dear Pamela, how wonderful that you were able to mend it.

    I've just been reading your other comments. I know you're in America but when I read your blog I think your English xx

  13. Ah, and there lies the artist within you.

    I used to have that knack for fixing things. Like putting together the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, I'd oh-so-carefully reconstruct items that had fallen victim to moves and winds and a klutzy husband. There was one piece, though, that could not be properly repaired. A tiny Limoges heart-shaped box, whose lid shattered and a goodly sized chunk was never found. Still, I glued the remainder together and even now, it sits proudly in a glass case with other heart boxes, all unblemished.

    But the broken is my favorite, because when I see it, I see my son riding high on his father's shoulders, laughing and stretching his arms and legs out as if flying, and my daughter shouting, "Me next, me next!" Yes, it's my only piece of Limoges, and now worthless to collectors, but I wouldn't trade it for a million...

  14. I really appreciate what you say here. I also think of pieced quilts, and stained glass, how they are things deliberately "broken" apart to be put back together in a whole. I've been thinking about wholeness this week, and I thank you for your contribution.

  15. Such a beautiful thought. We are not broken but sometimes made better.

  16. Ah I recognise this husband too is fantastic at putting things back together with barely a join left visible! That part about your Mum in law only discovering the plate was broken 25 years later made me laugh out loud,that one sounds like something my son would have done!!

    I love the way you write.

  17. You have a special gift for extrapolating from the specific to the general. It's comforting to think that things can be mended, because we surely cannot get through life without MANY forms of breakage.

    When I was in Berlin, we visited an old dance hall (called the Hall of Mirrors, I think) and everything in it was broken or dilapidated . . . but it had so much elegance and distinctive beauty.

  18. Beautifully written as always Pamela, reminds me of each time I'm surprised to find a perfect flower sprouting from a bulb thrown on my compost heap

  19. I do so hate to break something myself...but I am attracted to mended items...they show such love and caring and resourcefulness. The mended often is more beautiful in my eyes

  20. Wow, lovely post. The fragility of all things beautiful. Whether it's a tea cup, cookie jar, a relationship... once broken it's not the same. But dare I say becomes more important to us. It has history, scars and memories. A perfect something never evokes these things. They just are. How sad.

  21. Small cracks, fixed plates, I love them all, they tell stories, keep memories... And make me sometimes smile!
    A few weeks ago a neighbor came over with his dog, a lively labra-doodle, just for a little chat and our dogs played.
    His one was so excited that she smashed into a pottery roster, presiding over our deck..
    Her mortified owner took the broken pieces and next morning we found a masterly fixed rooster sitting at our front door, watching over a bottle of wine!!!

    Love your wonderful take on Beauty in the Broken and made me think of the now so gorgeously restored Frauenkirche - Church of Our Lady in my home town Dresden, Germany...still the broken walls are visible...

  22. We place too much emphasis on the perfect...Pamela, your words illuminate how important it is to see beyond that, xv.

  23. Love the story of the broken plate discovered 25 years later!

  24. I have a photo of one of the reconstructed windows at Wells. They have so much stained glass! Breaking something may cause momentary distress but if the associations are above monetary value the beauty and pleasure remain.

  25. What a wonderful comparison ..... the biscuit jar and the stained glass windows of the Lady Chapel in Wells Cathedral.... and between anything that is broken. They all still have so much more life left in them .....especially if one has a songwriter or a glass repairer !! Nothing is ever really broken is it? There is always many years of life left.
    Thanks for your lovely comment Pamela...... perhaps you and I should approach the tobacco industry....we could be millionaires by Christmas !!!! Hehe XXXX

  26. if only broken hearts were as easy to fix!

  27. Fabulous picture with this post Pamela. And I too have a wonderful man with a gift for sticking objects back together - this comes in handy as I am quite good at breaking things.
    An ancient stone archway has been demolished by a van here in the UK today and it is now a heap of rubble but as an observer said - when it started out it was just a heap of rubble. It too can be rebuilt.

  28. GRand post, Pamela as usual.

    You are lucky to have a gifted put-em-back-together dude. Could I borrow him for a couple of weeks.

    The story of the windows at Wells Cathedral reminds me not only that that which is broken can be mended, but also of the destructiveness that has been done through the ages in the name of "god."

  29. you are so wise Pamela....thank you for your wonderful blog!!xx

  30. How lucky you are to have the Songwriter with his ability to transform broken objects - and how lucky to have one thoughtful dog who no doubt realised that SW would soon put it all together again.

  31. That is exactly something I would do! How lucky to have a knight in shining armor with a glue gun. I loved how you stretched an incident into a moving metaphor of life.

  32. I love the stained glass story, Pamela, and yes, how often do we think we see the whole of something and we forget it may have a past that is very different. Like people! I am not who I was, but have to remind myself others aren't either!
    And I guess broken objects gain a story! :-)

  33. That are beautiful thoughts and there is much wisdom in them. Broken things can be fixed and sometimes even better than before :) Your writing is always a joy !


  34. Picking up the broken pieces and assembling them is often the first step in feeling whole. As always you have such a way with piecing words and images.

  35. I believe there's something about American culture now, with its outwearing of the materialist/capitalist model, that ends in causing many of us to turn to the broken,the discarded, the bits and pieces, to contruct an alternative story.

  36. Hi Pamela--
    Saw "Never Let Me Go" last night. Beautifully shot, acted, and edited. Fascinating premise. I'm a big fan of speculative fiction, especially when it's set backwards in time. This is one movie that will haunt me for a very long time. Your depiction of the narrator not asking the questions was beautifully recreated in the movie. If you see it, let me know!

  37. Lovely. Brings to mind Leonard Cohen "there's a crack in everything, it's how the light gets in" and David Whyte's Faces of Braga poem. And I love the story from Wells Cathdral; I've been there, but didn't know narrative. Yes so much richer.


I love to read your comments! Each and every one! Though I'm always reading your comments, I may not respond in the comment section. If you want to write me directly, you may do so at Thank you for reading!