To look at her fingers, you have to wonder what has happened to her – a car accident? Genetic fault lines? Torture? All the joints are loud, rude pebbles jostling and pushing the surface of too fragile speckled skin. Age has sucked the strength and padding from between her bones and cartilage, so when I hold her hand in mine I’m careful not to jostle or squeeze too much, even tenderly. All her fingers twist and angle severely towards her thumbs, which in turn furl towards her palm, even when she’s sleeping. If she was to stretch out her fingers, they would still cup inwards, as if she’s protecting something tiny in her palm. Her hands look as if they’ve been broken twice, at least, and put back roughly in a box, mending where they have fallen.
But if you place a crochet hook or knitting needle in her hands, the twists and jags of her fingers snap into focus, like a magic eye picture your eyes have suddenly worked out how to look at. You look, and the weird groove at the back of her hand is a welcome, custom nook for the crochet hook, worn by over seventy years of making tiny welcoming jackets, booties and bonnets for weary and contented and furious newborns. The sweep of her joints inwards is a living diagram of how she held the wool and blankets knitted and constantly given away during her life.
There is beauty in broken things. Be they family heirlooms, families or hearts; bodies, spirits or dreams – broken doesn’t mean worthless or ugly. Sometimes the spiky and curled pieces tumble, shifting slowly under the constant wash of sun to moonshine until one day our eyes learn to look differently and we can see the stained glass window all those pieces created. A friend posted recently:
Today I am thankful for geology, and this morning specifically, for Opals. Opals are only beautiful because they are hopelessly fractured, and thus continually refracting light. The result is the beautiful rainbow we see, the flashes of colorful blues, red, greens and yellow oranges. Opal without the fractures… is boring old “potch” opal, rose or white colored, no flash. So any time you begin to think of yourself as broken, remember, it is only through the fractures that the light becomes iridescent….make sure you are reflecting the right Light, and you’ll be better than fine.
The pain of the breakage depends on so many variables: history, emotion, cost, price, value, memory, effort, wants and hopes. Sometimes the pieces stay broke, despite our best efforts to find beauty, or meaning, or purpose, or the ultimate glue to stick it all back together. Sometimes there are double rainbows and perfect puddles after rain; sometimes the cloud’s silver lining is nuclear fallout beginning to drift down. Just like the puddles, and opals, and our deepest truest selves – we are all hopelessly fractured, broken, and iridescent.
Her hands have been broken by the service she has willingly given. Having given her life to Christ as a Catholic nun she has never had a child of her own, but every single soul born into our family makes its way to her lap, where those swollen, deflating hands lovingly cup soft, precious heads, a twisted finger traces the sign of the cross against the baby’s brow, and a prayer drifts down and is soothed into new, pearly skin by her wrecked and beautiful hands.
What do you see or think of as beautiful, which is – or has been – broken? Has there been something lately that you have suddenly seen differently?