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? 


  1. Marnie

    November 28, 2012

    My heart break started the day a brave birth mother placed her beloved baby into our care and I saw and heard true grief – beyond anything I had ever personally experienced. Feeling-wise, I was kind of numb on the day as everything had happened so suddenly – I was in shock, but as it seeped into me I really began to feel the depth of her sacrifice and my heart broke for her. But it then also opened right up and I discovered there are no limitations on love. Only those we impose on it. This incredible woman is still a big part of our lives – a member of the family – and our situation although unusual for an adoption, is beautiful. Nevertheless, the break in my heart remains and I am glad because I never want to lose the keen reminder of her incredible sacrifice. It reminds me of my responsibility and of how incredibly blessed we are.

  2. KDA

    November 28, 2012

    Lovely! I sometimes get overwhelmed when I push too hard to remove all flaws in my projects and myself. Sometimes I take comfort in Hopkins poem “Pied Beauty” or in the Navajo tradition of adding a flaw to a woven blanket to give the evil spirits a path out. And now I have the image of an opal and of this kind woman’s hands to aid me in accepting my own imperfections and in embracing the beauty in others, since as humans we are all broken, flawed in some way. Oh, and “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

  3. Amos

    November 28, 2012

    A number of years ago my husband and I were doing a session at the Spokane temple. It had only been open about six months at the time. In our session was an elderly man wearing obviously grungy temple clothes. In my head I was quite judgmental. My husband sat near this man and could hear when a temple worker came in and talked to him. This man had done two or three sessions a day, every single day since the temple had opened. He was literally wearing his clothes out with the work.

    Sometimes we put so much stock in beauty. I wish I could always be able to see others with the same eyes as our Heavenly Father.

  4. Michelle L.

    November 28, 2012

    Oh Kel. This is just lovely. Thank you! Your writing always opens my eyes to beauties I’ve never before recognized.

  5. Jules

    November 28, 2012

    This was so perfect for me to read, as I had a very difficult night in which I lamented my “brokenness” followed by a really rough day at work. Thank you.

  6. Blue

    November 28, 2012

    my favorite quote this year is my blog header quote, by Leonard Cohen:

    Ring the bells that can still ring
    Forget your perfect offering
    There is a crack in everything
    That’s how the light gets in.

    Works for opals and humans, both. ♥

  7. jennifer rueben

    November 29, 2012

    my father has a wine colored birth mark on the left side of his face. It has become more pronounced as he becomes older. Now in his 92 year he is moving slowly towards the end of his life. He is not going ” gently into that night” His raging make the mark even darker. This flaw is symbol of his determination and strength. A reminder to his family that he has fought a good fight throughout his life. From a poor family he pushed and pulled himself through school to the PhD. He survived the depression and World War II and built a goodly home and family. Thank you for your beautiful piece that showed me that I need to see my father’s flaw as a beautiful part of his character.

  8. dalene

    November 29, 2012

    I have similar images burned into my heart and mind. One, in particular, of one of my dearest friend’s hands, knotted and curled from arthritis, as she painstakingly sewed perfect seams on corn bags to keep her neighbors and friends warm during a harsh winter.

    I love this, Kel. I love you.

  9. Tay

    November 29, 2012

    This reminds me of when my mother and I were looking for a good violin. I was in need of one with more depth and range. We walked into a pawn shop and there it was. It called to me. Some spots in the varnish, a crack down its face, it was imperfect. But it needed me and I needed it and we seemed to be made for each other. (Instruments are alive, you know, like wands. 🙂 I feared for it during the reparation process and was cheered by its beautiful sounds when it was finally in my hands again.

    When a violin (or any wood instrument) is cracked, it changes its sound by diminishing its original vibrations. But its sound so perfectly suited my musical voice and I love it. My imperfect performances saved it from neglect and disuse, its imperfect sound saved me from teenage angst and gave me life.

    Beauty in the imperfections. Love you Kel.

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