This is what the storms brought—all these broken treasures, delivered right to my bare feet on the beach in front of the house. It was up to me however, to gather them and make something beautiful with them. How did I do?
I’m getting better at it, y’all, so much better since my own great storm. I can work with fragments and shards—pieces with the tops blasted off, shells cracked clean in two, slender slivers bleached white by the sun. I love the ones calcified and gray with age, the ones barely recognizable as seashells, the ones no tourist would touch.
You see, I like the broken ones. I know you’ve heard me say this before. It has become something of a personal motto for me: I like the broken ones—seashells and people. I, myself am a broken one. Broken clean open. And I hope to stay this way.
I know that this sentiment makes folks cringe, and I understand why. Brokenness in our culture implies obsolescence, uselessness, resignation. Synonyms are “damaged,” “defective,” and “busted.”
But from ancient spiritual perspectives, a broken and contrite heart is a holy sacrifice to God. Wabi-sabi, in Japanese aesthetic culture, celebrates flaws and imperfection. There is even a South Asian Goddess known as Akhilandeshwari, which roughly translates to “She-who-is-never-not-broken.”
We are all, every one of us, messy mortals. Life breaks us all open. Perhaps only babies and very small children in their yummy newness and pliability are unchipped and unmarred. Of course, adolescence changes all that. And I’ve yet to meet an adult that has not been broken open by life and love.
Yes, life breaks us all open. The challenge then, is to stay that way. Yes, stay broken open—emphasis on “open.” The temptation, in the wake of great despair or waywardness, is to try to fill those fissures and cracks with whatever is handy—substances, compulsions, busyness, drama. This is what I call being broken shut. And it almost killed me a few years ago.
Almost, but not quite. I write about it in my first book in a story called “Surge.” (You can read it by clicking here). I suffered a loss so crushing in a storm so fierce, I retreated into the darkness of addiction, where I cowered—broken shut. A second storm, just weeks later, smashed me open again, and scattered my fractured pieces far and wide, leaving only my core, what I call my “inner spiral of humanity”—much like the seashells in my wreath—exposed and vulnerable.
This time I made a wreath. Instead of hiding out, I reached out, and I’m still reaching—reaching to help and reaching to be helped. Because I now know, we are all broken open in some way, and I’d just as soon establish that common ground with you sooner than later. I am capable of loving you whether you show me your brokenness or not, but I can be your true and intimate friend only when you allow me to turn you over in my hand—in my heart—and see inside, past the fractured parts to your lovely spiral of humanity. Because the inside—even of my very favorite seashell, the scotch bonnet—is far more beautiful, and meaningful, than the outside. And you can’t see inside without the cracks.
I think my broken seashell wreath is beautiful. It represents what I believe to be the essence of community, of fellowship, of brotherly love. Yes, we are all broken open in some way. Every last one of us, and that’s a good thing. More light and air and truth get in that way.
I wrote in my book about my ideas for the making of this wreath, about joining the brave and vulnerable countless others in this circle of beautiful imperfection: “I am drawn to you, broken ones, because I am broken too, and we are in this wreath together…The places where one shell is broken fit the contours of another shell that is whole on that side but perhaps chipped on the other. Then that space accommodates the next shell in the wreath, and so on and so on, and that is how a community is built. We nestle together in our shared struggles and triumphs and make something lovely of this world.”
Look at my wreath! You can see inside!
This is what the storms bring, y’all—all these broken open treasures—It is up to you though, to make something beautiful of them. How are you doing with that?
“Vices” is now available on Kindle and other eReaders for just 5.99. You even have the option of “gifting” the digital version by clicking the “Give as a Gift” on Amazon.com and entering the email address of the recipient. Of course, the paper version (still my preference) is available at the buy-three-get-one-free rate from this website (Shop).
Books are also available from all these gracious local retailers:
At the beach:
69 Via DeLuna Dr.
Pensacola Beach, FL 32561
In Gulf Breeze:
832 Gulf Breeze Parkway
(Publix shopping center)
Gulf Breeze, FL 32561
In East Hill:
1208 N. 12th Ave.
Pensacola, FL 32503
(at the front register)
5109 Bayou Blvd.
Pensacola, FL 32503
89 Central Square
Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32549
Page and Palette
32 S. Secton Street
Fairhope, AL 36532