Tuesday's Attention #8
A Fragile Frame
A Fragile Frame
The other day I was listening to the song Porcelain by Tow’rs and I had to pause the song to listen to two lines over again. In the song, the tone shifts and they sing,
“Fragility is a gift that we don’t see
Brought to life by the storms that wreck the sea”
I have been thinking about these words a lot as I have reflected back on this past year of my life. For a good bit of my life, my fragility was often hidden behind my frame. I was the little girl urging the boys to allow me to play football with them and insisted that I would not be the only two-hand touch player. I was an athlete who quickly learned that you just push beyond your pain and don’t let your fragility be seen. I prided myself on my strength. I didn’t want others to see my fragility and I certainly did not want to see my fragility as a gift. I can still struggle with that sort of language around the word.
This past year didn’t just break something in me, it broke me. Any sense of control that I once thought I had fell to my feet. So too did my pride and what I thought was my strength. What I did could no longer be who I was.
The vessel that I once was could no longer be and so then came the shattering.
As I shattered, piece by piece, people held parts of me. They didn’t look at my rugged edges with fear. Instead, they met the rugged with gentleness, for they knew my frame was fragile.
Through the strength of love within the people that have surrounded me and held me, I learned that I didn’t need to become an entirely new vessel. I didn’t need to discard some of the pieces of me. They just needed to be held back together again, with some change.
Although I am no longer teaching in a classroom, I carry the classroom with me and all the ways it has formed me. The teacher in me travels out onto the soccer field, into an email about writing, and into conversations I have about creating and reading and learning. The athlete in me is not pushed away. She just has to find her home in the slow and in the simple joy of moving her body.
We each, in the past few years, have weathered the wreckage of many storms at sea. We’ve experienced our fragility and the fragility of those around us. It’s painful. It’s humbling. It’s hard. And it is simultaneously what has connected us to others. Tomorrow I turn 25. All of 24 felt connected to learning about my disease, living with it, and seeing all that it was breaking. The first half of the year, I was quite quiet about my fragility with it all. I did what I always did. I pushed through. That is, until it all pushed down upon me and I couldn’t hide the wreckage it was causing.
As I have been thinking of this metaphor connected to my being as a vessel, I have thought of a Japanese art Carson had once told me about. Christy Bartlett in “Flickwerk: The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics” explains the art by saying,
“Kintsugi (golden joinery) is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum, a method similar to the maki-e technique. As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.”
How beautiful is that?!
How often do we try to disguise breakage? If you are anything like me, the answer is probably often. It feels easier and safer that way. However, no matter how hard we try, we cannot completely forget nor disguise our breakage. Sooner or later, the cracks will appear. As stated, it is a part of our history— our story.
Although every part of me wants to move into a new year of age and disguise all the ways 24 brought me face-to-face with my fragility, I know that more is lost there than gained. If I tried to do that, I’d miss out on seeing all the beautiful, humbling, and powerful ways people held my rugged pieces and with a sort of lacquer dusted mixed with gold, pieced me back together. I am not the same vessel, but the pieces of me remain. My fragility is now one anyone can see. But so too is my history— my story of how this year was one where much was lost, but far more was received. My history of God taking care of me. My history of people carrying me. My history of how my body, even in the breaking, held me. It s a history I do not want to hide nor disguise.
We know that when we pick up a piece of pottery that has been broken and repaired, we must be gentle with it. Some pieces, it is easier to see the fragility. Other pieces, the repair hides at the seams. However, both require gentleness. So too do each of us. When we interact with others, remember that some of us may be better at hiding our broken pieces and repairs. We are each fragile. We each carry with us our history of breaking and repairing. We each withhold beauty within the broken pieces. We each are in need of gentle love and care.
We create from our fragility. We connect through our vulnerability. We grow through the breaking and the repairing. Fragility itself may not be a gift, but being alongside one another in it sure is.
Words that have been sticking with me:
The past week and a half I have been reading a new book called Art + Faith: A Theology of Making that Carson gave me as an early birthday present. In one part the author, Makoto Fujimura writes a lot about light and darkness in relation to art. In one part he states,
“In art we do not “obliterate the darkness”; art is an attempt to define the boundaries of the darkness.”
As I reread those words, I think about the ways art has sustained me this year. I think about how it is where I have tried to define the boundaries of darkness in my life. As I have been saying for a long time, I write to heal. And healing indeed it is.
I also want to share another Mary Oliver poem with you all that has been an important one the past two years.
It didn’t behave
like anything you had
Ever imagined. The wind
Tore at the trees, the rain
Fell for days slant and hard.
The back of the hand
To everything. I watched
The trees bow and their leaves fall
And crawl back into the earth.
As though, that was that.
This was one hurricane.
I lived through, the other one
Was of a different sort, and
Lasted longer. Then
I felt my own leaves giving up and
falling. The back of the hand to
Everything. But listen now to what happened
To the actual trees;
Toward the end of that summer they
Pushed new leaves from their stubbed limbs.
It was the wrong season, yes,
But they couldn’t stop. They
Looked like telephone poles and didn’t
Care. And after the leaves came
Blossoms. For some things
There are no wrong seasons.
Which is what I dream of for me.
It is the last few lines of this poem that I could read all day long. This was one of my first favorite Mary Oliver poems. I read it for the first time in March of 2020. I had just bought her book A Thousand Mornings and as I read “Hurricane” I knew I needed to read it to my students. I wanted them to hear those words, “for some things there are no wrong seasons. Which is what I dream of for me.” It is what I dream of for them. And, what I dream of for me too.
The times I bloomed this year were unexpected. I feel as if I have pushed new leaves out of my stubbed limbs. There are no wrong seasons for us to bloom. For this, I dream of for each of you.
I have been doing pottery again at Gooddirt Studio in Athens. Last week, I was in the studio working on throwing cups. I was unsurprisingly having a hard time. The woman next to me however was not. She seemed to be in her late 60’s and you could tell that this craft was not new to her. She was throwing these beautiful vases left and right. I asked her how long she had been doing pottery and she said on and off for about 40 years. I then proceeded to ask her if she had any advice for someone just beginning. Her advice was simple. She said,
“In pottery, everyone struggles at the beginning. You struggle until you one day don’t. Lean into the struggle.”
Pottery and the people of the craft continue to teach me.
List of Attention:
How great a ski lift is for conversation and for connecting with strangers
What sunshine and warmth and Covid numbers dropping does for people’s joy
The rest that the presence of mountains brings
The smell of tea olive trees and the joy that brings
The gift of seeing a friend be very loved in their relationship
The kind patience of a pottery teacher
A mother’s love and the gift of seeing a mother with her baby
How sports movies and documentaries make me quite teary eyed
At the end of every newsletter, I want to leave you all with some questions/prompts to think on. My hope is that these can encourage you in some form or fashion. Whether it is through just taking some time to think through them, to write about that, or to talk through them with a loved one. If you ever want a friend to hear your thoughts, feel free to share them back with me! I always love to read and to listen.
If you get the chance, discuss your thoughts on these questions with a friend!
Where can you see the beauty within repair in your history? Write about this or talk about it with a dear friend!
What connotations do you have around the word “fragile”? Explore that more.
Create a piece of art in whatever medium makes you feel most like a child. With your art piece, let it seek to define the boundaries of darkness. Have fun with it!
One Word Prompts:
Write a letter to your fragile pieces or your overall fragility. Be gentle with yourself and write whatever words you need to hear.
I am not sure if you are in a season of feeling wrecked by a storm or if you are in one where you feel a lot of repairing and strength. Wherever you are on that spectrum, I hope you feel encouraged to be both gentle with others and gentle with yourself. And remember, for some things, there are no wrong seasons.
As you carry on into this week, may your days ahead be filled with words that encourage you, laughter that heals you, and moments of beauty that pull your attention in and bring you to slow down.
May you know that you, yourself, are worth paying attention to.
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Thank you all for continuing to read my words. It is a joy to share this space with you all.
Some love from Rue and me!