Monday, January 26, 2009

Broken Tea Bowls

"The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places."

--Ernest Hemingway
A Farewell to Arms

I learned something valuable yesterday. I learned about broken Japanese tea bowls, and about the Japanese Wabi aesthetic. According to Zen-cha Roku, Wabi means lacking something, having things run contrary to our desires, being frustrated in our wishes. Things imperfect, things irregular or damaged. Like me, and probably like you, too.

These irreplaceable antique porcelain Japanese tea bowls used in tea ceremonies sometimes become cracked or broken. They are not throwaways. The broken bowls are painstakingly repaired with a mixture of lacquer and gold, whereby they become more valuable, the repaired bowl worth more than the original. They say that the repairs lend character and beauty to the bowl, the repaired imperfections enhancing the design, and they are prized all the more.

Crystal, my teacher, said that once she and her mother were driving in the canyon, and they had just passed one of those signs that warn: WATCH FOR FALLING ROCKS, when a landslide of boulders came crashing down on their car. One of her tires was ripped off its bent rim, the windows were broken out. Her injured mother stayed in the car, sitting in a sea of broken glass. Crystal got out, and began to pound on the dented hood. "Why ME?" she asked the mountain. "WHY ME?" I mean, how many times have you read that sign--and NEVER had any rocks fall on you? DO you know of ANYONE who ever had rocks fall on them? Why me, indeed. Crystal said when she was a child, and was faced with disappointments and hurts, her dad always told her to "Cowboy up!"

But, you know what? When I first learned about my melanoma, my first reaction was Why me? Then I thought, Because. Just because. A hundred 'why's'. A hundred 'becauses.' Why not me? Joseph Wirthlin, an LDS Apostle said last October, "The dial on the wheel of sorrow eventually points to each of us. No one is exempt." But you know what else? Nobody ever promised it was going to be roses all the way. The poet Theodore Roethke said it: "I learn by going where I have to go." Sometimes we just have to "Cowboy up."

A note I discovered once among some old papers: Adversity helps men to rise above themselves.

My husband said once, a long time ago, "When you think of the vastness and enormity of the universe, and of the billions and billions of planets and stars, doesn't it make you feel small and insignificant?" Then he added, "Me, neither!"

We are all like the precious flower vase made by Rikyo called Onjoji, and a beautiful tea bowl named Seppo, made by Koatsu--prized all the more because they were cracked, and have been fixed. We may be imperfect, but that's okay.

My favorite songwriter/poet Leonard Cohen wrote: Ring the bells that still can ring/ Forget your perfect offering/ There is a crack in everything/ That's how the light gets in.

Is that true? I think so. :)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Everything is Possible... Tout est Possible...

Share this image by photographer Karine Doche with your friends. Make it circulate!

NOTE, 1-27-09: A few nights ago on the news, they featured a Muslim Children's Choir here in SLC, singing with a Jewish Children's Choir. After singing songs from each culture, one of the many songs they sang was "We Are Family." Afterward, the people in the audience (mostly parents) cried and embraced one another. I was very touched. The children are performing again next week in the Salt Lake Mormon Tabernacle on Temple Square.

Monday and Me

This is an old snapshot of me and a house sparrow named Monday. I was 13 or so. Monday was blown out of her nest in our Chinese Elm tree when she was a baby, and she never really understood that she was a bird, and not a person. Neither did we. She was a loved member of the family, until the day she died.

We buried a sparrow the other day (my grandson Jacob and I) who somehow laid himself down to die on my doorstep--none the worse, for being dead. Jacob noticed the eyes, still dark and shiny, were open. Did he crash into the window? Was he attacked by bigger birds in an argument over seeds I threw out the night before? Or was he sick, or old? Jake helped me dig a hole where flowers will grow in spring. We covered him with a napkin, Jake said it would "be easy for him to fly out someday, when he comes alive again." I agreed. I said a few words about how Heavenly Father notices the fall of sparrows. I shed a few tears, (sentimental me!), and I thought about a book I am reading called Returning to Earth, by Jim Harrison, which the back cover says is a "moving meditation on life and afterlife," with a "fierce gentle beauty." And I thought about this bird, and all of us. Harrison writes of a mine disaster where, over a period of 20 years, nearly 2,000 men had died: In the dream I finally understood that death and numbers don't cohere. Everyone is "one." An accident report might say that nine men died, four of them in their teens, but each death was "one." Each of six million Jews was "one." With death it is a series of "ones."

Last week we went to see Dr. Gunther von Hagens' BODYWORLDS at The Leonardo Museum downtown featuring "a unique collection of over 200 authentic human specimens, real people, "plastinated." Men, women, babies, a camel, a camel baby.... I am not going to discuss the ethics of the exhibition. It was awesome. It was even inspiring, as they promised it would be. People doing things in death I'm sure they never dreamed they would do, in life--skiing, ballet dancing, ice-skating, balancing beautifully and perfectly in aesthetic displays that invited all of us to contemplate and reflect on the unimaginable complexity and elegance of the human body. Each of the collection of "over 200" in the series was "one." As was the sparrow Jacob and I buried. As we all are.