Broken Hearts

A broken heart can seem like the end of the world. But, if you give yourself a chance, it can also be the beginning of a new world.

Sometimes we don’t feel we have the ability to defend ourselves from a broken heart. Things just happen to us. They come and overwhelm us, sometimes making it hard to breathe. And it can seem too challenging to believe there is any way to reassemble our lives and reclaim our heart.

I have a story to tell you about this.

My sister, Alison, and I like to try out various art classes. We decided it would be fun to do some stained-glass work, so signed up and when the time came, showed up at the studio. As is often the case, I was the only man present. I’ve grown accustomed to this and the mothering I usually receive from the women taking the class.

There were seven or eight of us present. The instructor was very pleasant and helpful and guided us through the process and various techniques we would be using. When she was done with her introductory comments, she asked us to wander around and choose the glass pieces that appealed to us.

It was a lot of fun seeing all the various sizes, colors, and textures of the glass pieces. I gathered what I thought would be enough to complete my project and sat down next to my sister.

At first, I began randomly placing pieces in my frame. I really didn’t have any preconceived idea how my project would turn out. I was just ‘winging it’. At some point I realized I didn’t like how it looked, so I tipped out all the pieces onto the table.

There were a host of shrieks and everyone in the class turned toward me. They simply could not believe I’d done that and were upset on my behalf. Some thought it must have been an accident. Others were convinced I was upset or crazy. Once they knew it was an intentional act on my part, they all wanted to know WHY?

I told them I’d changed my mind. I looked at the assembled stained-glass pieces and I didn’t like what I saw. I told them I needed to start over and that it would be okay. They didn’t seem at all reassured and went back to their own projects, shaking their heads.

I began again. This time though the pieces fell easily into place. I noticed a surprising calmness inside of me. I’d followed my own inner guidance and as I looked down, an incredible thing happened. A beautiful image appeared. It was Mary, the mother of Jesus, dressed in a blue swirling shroud. I looked more carefully and noticed she was holding a broken heart in her hands. I knew she was mending it. I sat there in complete awe.

Of all the artwork I have created, it is by far my most favorite.

It speaks to me. I hear gently words she shared about how to mend a broken heart.

She told me that it is only when we choose to feel what we are feeling that we can begin. We know it’s going to be painful and yet, I feel there is a promise in this for us, that once we allow the pain in and recognize its presence, it becomes ready to leave us. We can let it go, making space for something new to take its place. And we can start over. We can be patient and watchful, looking for a new life to emerge. We can open our hearts, so we can experience new dreams. And, although it seems impossible to us, we can be grateful. Grateful that life does not end with a broken heart. If we allow it, our life can begin again. Our hearts can be mended.

I think about this every time I look at my beautiful stained-glass artwork hanging in my office window. Sometimes first thing in the morning the rising sun lights it up and I sense the truth that no heart is ever beyond mending.

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Embracing Imperfection

I’d like to make a case for imperfection. This is not a minor suggestion, especially not coming from me, since I am by nature a perfectionist. Those who know me well, probably see ample evidence of this, so you can take their word for it too.

I can spot the ways this shows up in my life and maybe you’ll identify with some of them. I look down at my right hand and see an age spot there, what my granddaughter, Tessa, calls a “boo-boo”. Even her kissing it won’t make it go away.

I have several scars, only one from surgery for which I am very thankful. There are spots on the carpet next to my living room chair, a few small dings in my car and some unidentifiable stains on our beautiful front porch. It is my belief that I am not responsible for any of these, but who can know for sure?

There are also imperfections in my life. Two speeding tickets, a job loss, words I said that weren’t nice, people I’ve let down, investments that went south. You get the picture.

If you gave yourself a couple of minutes you could probably create your own list.

I’ve come to realize several things about all of this.

The first is that perfection is a person standard. I might share the same ideals with some, but others would no doubt see them differently.

Second, the price of my suffering depends on how high I set the bar. I don’t always see ‘perfection’ in the same light. There is sort of a sliding scale depending on how strict I’m feeling at the time.

Third, if I give myself some slack, I can see that there is almost no value to perfection. In fact, more and more, I see there is great value in imperfection. The slight crease in a page often turned because I’ve read a favorite book many times. The beautiful and intriguing laugh lines next to my wife’s eyes that say to me that she still enjoys my jokes. Feeling tired from a long walk that fed my soul, but exhausted my body, when it wouldn’t have a few years ago.

If I pay attention, I encounter lessons in imperfection all the time.

Here’s one.

When our upstairs bathroom was remodeled, I decided I wanted one of those mirrors that affixes to the wall and extends outward, so that I could bring it closer to me, which would really help when shaving. I bought one and began the installation process by using the template to mark the places to drill holes in the wall. I drilled the holes and screwed the back plate to the wall, then fitted the fixture over the top of the back plate. It fascinated and horrified me that once the fixture was secured it was off center, so that as the arm extended, it was angled rather than straight.

Maybe this might not bother you and I congratulate you if this is the case. But, for me, this was totally unacceptable.

I considered my options.

Taking it off the wall and starting the process over again was my first thought. However, there were a number of logistical problems with this I won’t bore you with.

So, what else?

Could I do the unthinkable? Could I accept the imperfect installation, especially knowing I would see this every day of my life?

I want you to know that it was not lost on me that while I was trying to make this decision, I was staring at my reflection in the off-center mirror. I saw a man with obvious blemishes of one kind or another. I saw a man who prized perfection, but could not achieve it. And I saw something else.

Something snapped in me. Something wonderful.

I discovered the beauty of imperfection. I accepted that the mirror was okay, just as it was. It was still usable and functional. And I released my need for the mirror to be exactly as I intended it to be and let it be as it was. I decide that my usual suffering was no longer as valuable as my accepting life as it came to me. And I shifted my perception and looked below my surface, realizing I too am perfect just as I am, with all of my imperfections.

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