We take big pieces of wood, cut them up into little pieces of wood, then glue them back together again to make big pieces. That’s all there really is to making furniture.
I’ve always cherished these words, spoken to me by one of my mentors when I first visited his shop at age 23, a folksy bit of false humility thrown out there to help rescue this calling from all the lofty romantic rhetoric that usually engorges it. There is nothing more charming than when a true master understates his art, like Lyle Lovett talking about “making up” his songs rather than “writing” them.
So it was a strange thing today suddenly to discover a deeper meaning to Louis Fry’s words. But that’s what sometimes happens when you think while you work.
And I’ve been thinking a lot about loss lately. A lot. Today a good friend who knows this sent me this blog article by Julie Peters. It begins on the floor, where we sometimes find ourselves broken and empty and completely undone by a tragic loss, lying in the rubble of what we thought we knew about our future, about what’s ours, about who we are and why we even matter. All our instincts and all our friends tell us to get up, find the things that make you feel better, start building your house again. Quickly. Don’t wallow.
But Peters offers the griever something different, the image of a goddess from Hindu mythology called Akhilandeshvari, a name which translates as “Never Not Broken.” The “Always Broken Goddess,” her very power derives from her brokenness, from her never ending willingness to tear herself apart and rearrange the pieces into something entirely new. Every time she breaks she is free to imagine herself all over again, free of the ruts and routines that keep her from growing and changing and becoming ever greater.
We spend most of our lives terrified of unwanted change, of being broken, of losing what and who we have. And still brokenness is thrust upon our unwilling stories, and we scramble in shame and panic to replace what we have lost, to glue the little pieces back together into something resembling what we had before.
But what if it’s true that the real power is simply in the willingness to be broken? What if the only real opportunity to gain is through loss? Would that change how we think, what we fear, how we live?
Today is Good Friday, when we are invited to meditate on the story of another god, one who became a man and allowed his human body to be broken and destroyed, though we are told that he could have stopped it at any time. Those who believe in Jesus believe that he did not go alone into the grave, but that he took ‘sin’ with him. With the habits and routines of ‘sin’ now dead, those who believe in him are now free, powerful, full of nothing but new possibilities. Even as they lie on their backs, on the floor, in the rubble of their former lives.
No matter what you believe about Akhilandeshvari or Jesus, you have to acknowledge the wisdom in those stories. There is nothing of any real value that we gain from going through life whole, strong, and always put together. The stuff that matters, the really beautiful stuff like wisdom and patience and compassion and creativity and vulnerability and empathy and love and the list goes on and on, these things are only available to the broken. They present themselves as new bricks for the one who is forced, or perhaps even chooses, to rebuild her life from a rubble strewn ground.
There is a pile of cherry wood on my shop floor as I write. The boards are straight and massive and stunningly beautiful. And I am about to take a saw to them. To break them.
And later I will glue them back together, differently. And I trust, because I have no choice but to trust, that what appears will be beautiful.