Monday, June 5, 2017

Filling my sidewalk with chalk poetry and fixing my heart with gold

Recently, I decided I wanted to inject a little more art and spontaneity into the suburbs. So after listening to something or other on the internet about a poet writing verse on the sidewalks of New York, I decided to follow suit. Not in New York, of course, but in my own front yard. 



I've been keeping an eye out for short poems or excerpts of poems that might lend themselves to sidewalk art (if you have a favorite, please share! Also, you should decorate your own sidewalks!)

While searching for poetry I browsed through past columns Omid Safi had written for On Being– he often includes verse in his writing– whether it's his own or the work of others. I love Safi's pieces– they're filled with wisdom that's rooted in parts of the world I'm unfamiliar with, ideas that challenge me to look past my own upbringing and life experiences. And they're also infused with mysticism– a willingness to play and float and muse in realms we can't quite wrap our grounded brains around. 

I came across a post from back in April called "Illuminating the Beauty in Our Broken Places". I remember reading it the first time– the piece explores the art of kintsukuroi– a centuries-old Japanese practice of repairing cracked cups, dishes, mugs, etc. with silver or gold lacquer. Of finding "beauty in broken things or old things."


Safi writes:



"Give me someone who knows their own vulnerability and sees mine. 
Give me someone whose cracked spaces are golden.
Give me someone who has helped do kintsugi
Give me someone who is open to me doing kintsugi to their cracked heart.
So friends, wabi-sabi me.
Let me wabi-sabi you.
Let’s repair each other.
Let’s seek what’s cracked in each other.
Let’s heal our broken spaces.
Let’s fill what’s broken with gold.
May we emerge more beautiful, more whole, and luminous.
So, my love, come and see the beauty in my cracked spaces.
I see the beauty in yours.
You are not a heart that I will discard.
Do not discard me.
We can emerge from this healing golden, more beautiful.
May all that is cracked and broken
be healed

be illuminated."

I borrowed an excerpt for my sidewalk.

 A friend happened by and read the sidewalk. 

"Brocken?" she asked.

"Brocken?" I replied. 

She pointed to the sidewalk.

"Oh no! Brocken*!" I groaned.

I'm a terrible speller. How I started my career as a copy editor is kind of a mystery to me.

My friend figured the error was just part of the poem. "Nothing a little water can't fix," she told me– all kindness and understanding.

So I repaired my damaged word– though with water, not gold.

And until the sun dried it, the poem kind of looked like a dog had had an accident on it, which I'm not sure is the type of liquid gold the Japanese intended, but was kind of amusing nonetheless.

Today there's a nice gentle rain, washing away all the broken and fixed words anyway. Such is life.

One of my oldest friends stopped by Saturday night and the two of us sat by the fire pit– appreciating the perfect night, catching up on the news of each other's lives and inevitably reminiscing about our long history together. 

Somehow we landed on a discussion about moments in our lives that we were ashamed of. Decisions we'd made that back in high school we never thought we would've made as adults, choices we knew had hurt people in ways we never could've imagined hurting people. You know, those deep, deep cracks filled with dust and spiders that we rarely shine a light in. 

With Safi's words at the front of my brain that day, I told my friend that I thought those choices she'd made, those actions she'd taken, while not something she could take pride in had shaped her into a better person. Someone who's softer and more empathetic. Less inclined to judge. All of which are true.

Those cracks won't ever disappear, but they can be filled and reinforced rather than chipped away at by self-hatred and shame.

I thought about the darker chapters in my own story. How there are chinks, dents and gaping chasms I sometimes stare at in my mind's eye, feeling overwhelmed. Like they are too massive to fix. So I just shut the door on them.

These aren't the wounds caused by others or the things that I can explain away by circumstance, upbringing or other people's cruelties. Those external wounds seem much easier to own and fix. 

For instance, I am more or less comfortable sharing about the scars covering my arms. Sure, they were the result of self harm, but more than a decade removed from them, I can acknowledge the pain they sprouted from wasn't shameful (though the cutting definitely was– we are just such a weird species aren't we?) I can easily picture myself going into a tattoo parlor and asking an artist to gild these physical scars

The road to healing from the things done unto us somehow feels more straightforward than the road to healing the hurtful choices we ourselves have made. Those are more insidious injuries. We don't like to speak of them, so they often lurk within us, festering until we treat them.

Left to seed, the shame and guilt will cripple us– we've all seen this over and over, right? We see it in addiction, in anxiety, in depression, in intolerance, in cynicism, in pride, in self-righteousness– in every post that makes us cringe on Facebook. 

Unlike with kintsukuroi, where there's an outside tinkerer mending what's broken, the work of healing shame starts within ourselves. It starts with forgiving ourselves. Which, what with my Catholic upbringing, feels impossible. But it's necessary. I know it's necessary. Because those dark places stunt our growth. They're the vines and weeds overtaking our happiness, our ability to love, our ability to serve, our ability to live better lives.

And not that I'm any sort of Catholic or Christian now, but I'll borrow the good book in defense. 

"Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." 

As sinners we cannot throw stones at anyone, including ourselves (I'm speaking of metaphorical stones, of course, but should any of you be casting actual stones at yourselves, by all means, please stop!)

This is not to say you go on your merry way leaving a path of shattered souls in your wake. Only that you allow your moments of guilt or shame to be your teachers. You allow them to change you at a cellular level– because they can. I've seen it, just like with my friend. And while I might not be the best judge of my own growth, I think I've changed, too as a result of all the hard times I've been through and the ugly things I've put others through.

We all make bad choices. We all shift in and out of being people we like to being people we don't like all too much. Confronting the things we're ashamed of is just as capable of strengthening us as losing a job, a breakup, getting sick or losing someone. 

The girls are on bit of a "Moana" kick these days. I could go on (and on and on) about how much I love this movie but the scene that's getting me right now is one of the final ones. Moana walking through the parting ocean toward Te Ka, the raging lava monster.
"They have stolen the heart from inside you / But this does not define you / This is not who you are / I know who you are."

Rather than casting a stone, Moana looks the monster in the eye. She stops Te Ka from destroying the things that get close to her. She forgives her. She lets Te Ka know that she can see beyond her terrifying exterior. She restores her heart and as a result Te Ka transforms into Te Fiti, the Mother Island.


For those of us who need visualizations on what it means to confront our demons, this is as good an example as any. How often do we feed the demons within us that are desperate to be seen and forgiven? What purpose does that serve? Sure, the demon feels strong and looks like a badass, but she'll burn out eventually. 


We're not meant to be lava monsters, I don't think. We're meant to be verdant and life-giving. 

What's more, this is the only way we'll be able to escape this endless cycle of destruction we find ourselves in. We need to start by doing kintsugi on our own broken hearts. We have to be open to others helping us. And we have to be open to helping them, too. In this way, we'll fill all the cracked and broken spaces within us and among us.

* Sidenote: The Brocken is the highest peak of the Harz Mountains in Germany. So maybe my subconscious was trying to fix a mountain or something.

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