I was 2 when I fell down the stairs and landed on my head, biting my tongue. I can still feel my foot slip, still taste the blood in my mouth, still feel my mother’s arms embrace me on the living room floor.
That was the start. I just kept falling and breaking. The people I loved kept falling and breaking, too. My life’s lesson — just the one, and I seem to learn it over and over — is that I’ll always slip, I’ll never really manage anything with perfection, I’ll never come away from a project or a person and say “Well, I did that/him/her/them utter justice, I served that/him/her/them with unfiltered love and kindness.” I’ve written before about my lifelong struggle with chronic and incurable screw-up-ed-ness, the way I’ve always tried and failed and tried and failed and just kept trying, anyway.
But then, some weeks back, I stepped on my Chromebook. At first it worked just fine. Then the screen started to blank out until I wiggled it just right. Then it began to blank out more often, and the wiggling didn’t help any longer, and so I started bending it slightly to get it back. Then, one fateful evening, I bent it so hard it cracked, shooting a quiver of crooked arrows across the screen.
The thing was so unexpectedly lovely, and so totally and irretrievably broken, that I decided I wanted to see more. I grabbed the screen with both hands and bent it toward me, shattering it. The image that resulted was startling: two black tulips tilting toward the light, or in the wind. Immediately I saw in their fragmented, accidental beauty a metaphor for living: What breaks us can bring us to grace.
As a lover of God and science, I thought of the cosmos — the mad forces that made the universe and spin it ever outward, the entropy that leads it into chaos. Its beauty rests in its brokenness. As a Catholic, I thought of Christ — the savior who could only serve God’s purpose, and save God’s people, by breaking on the cross. His beauty rests in His brokenness.
Maybe ours does, too.
All of us are busted up, all falling and dying from birth. Gravity does a number on our bodies. Loss does a number on our hearts. We live in homes that crumble, love in ways that hurt. This is who we are and how we live, always hoping, often shattering, never sure. But there’s joy to be felt, if we’re patient. There’s beauty to be found, if we look.