A shattered coffee mug offers great insight into the nature of love and putting things back together after they have broken apart.
“Break a vase, and the love that reassembles the fragments is stronger than that love which took its symmetry for granted when it was whole.”
- A Nobel lecture by the late Derek Walcott
Two and a half years ago, I moved 2,000 miles away from my beloved home in Atlanta to take a job on the West Coast. I settled in to my new home, with its view of the Pacific Ocean, and did my best to recreate the life that I’d left behind.
Early on, during one of my unpacking sprees, I found a coffee mug that dear friends had given to me before I left. It had a gorgeous sketch of the Atlanta skyline on it, dancing around the perimeter. I love coffee almost as much as I love Atlanta, and this was a treasured item to discover. In my sentimentality, I began using it almost exclusively each day.
Until one day, I dropped it in the sink.
A large piece broke off of the side, marring the beauty of the skyline. I held the sharp fragment in my palm, enormous tears welling up in my eyes. I hated the symbolism of what I was holding. I ached at the pain of losing so much of what I loved about life: my friends, my job, my home. I let the dangerously jagged edge rest on the softness of my hand and thought about how deep the wound of loss is. How mystifying grief can be, with its ebbing and flowing and refusal to ever be complete.
As I looked at the mug, the remaining part that had stayed intact, I noticed that its groove was clean and smooth. The place where it had broken was open, facing out.
I gently set the fragment back in the gap, looking to see if I was missing small pieces that had scattered beyond my knowing.
The piece seemed to nestle back in place, perfectly, even in its brokenness. I managed to find a mostly-used tube of Gorilla Glue (which had mysteriously made the trip) and carefully squeezed it around the edges of both pieces. I matched up the ceramic edges, watching as the amber glue both welcomed the union and got out of its way.
My beloved coffee mug was no longer broken, but it also wasn’t restored. When I tried to put water in it, to test the strength of the reinforcement, I was dismayed when it leaked out the side.
I kept the mug. I couldn’t bear to throw it out, even though it couldn’t be used for coffee drinking any longer. This broken vessel was forever changed, even though it appeared whole from the outside.
In some ways, that mug became more precious to me. I guarded and protected it. Soon, I realized that I could use it for other things. It has become the container for my daughter’s paintbrushes, beads, colored pencils. It has held rocks that needed keeping, receipts that couldn’t be lost. It became something new to me, with a revived purpose and wider use.
The late Derek Walcott, a Nobel Prize-winning writer, offered this wisdom: “Break a vase, and the love that reassembles the fragments is stronger than that love which took its symmetry for granted when it was whole."
This is true for our lives, as well. The risk of loss chases us through our lives, and every time we dare to love or dream or hope, we risk the possibility of failure. All of us have lost something — a job, a relationship, a dream. When we lose something, the echo of its absence seems louder than anything. It feels as though we’ll never get over it.
But slowly, over time, we can open ourselves up to the awareness of the new thing that’s happening in the space that was created. I believe that God works to lovingly bring us to new life, even in the wake of our loss. This is what holds me up on my worst days: the idea of God relentlessly working to bring good into the world. This is the sort of love that reassembles our fragments, and makes us into more than what we could ask or imagine.
We believe in resurrection, which is a weird thing. It seems irrational and mysterious, this idea of life triumphing over death. But in reflecting on my own experiences, I can see how God has worked to bring me back to life, if in a new, but recognizable form.
The love that reassembles our fragments when we have been broken is the truth of resurrection. It takes more work to love the brokenness, to piece it all back together, to behold the reclaimed image of who we are — scars and all — and say, “This is my beloved.”
Rev. Mandy Sloan McDow is a native of Knoxville, TN, currently suffering for the Lord with an oceanview sanctuary and a marvelous congregation in Los Angeles, CA. Mandy holds a black belt in Taekwondo, makes music whenever possible, and watches a lot of baseball with her three children. Find more of her work at Reverend Mama.
[Published March 26, 2017]