Thursday, January 28, 2010

Strong in the Broken Places

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. ~ Ernest Hemingway

“Strong in the Broken Places” was the theme of the art show that hung on the walls of The Glade Baptist Church where I met with the woman’s book club group that had just read my book, The Jim and Dan Stories. It didn’t occur to me until the next day how fitting it was that I was talking about the deaths of my brothers with a group of women in a room adjacent to an art show with such a theme.

...I didn’t know when I began writing that to tell my brother’s story I also had to tell my own. I knew it was a family story, but I was surprised to discover that Jim and Dan’s deaths revealed an identity crisis in me, one that was underscored by the distance between my childhood home in Massachusetts and my present one in Virginia. Writing became a way to bridge those two places, and a way to piece together what was shattered in me. It was like a broken mirror was being put back together with each memory retrieved, so that I could see myself again. ~ From The Jim and Dan Stories, introduction.

Alex is a multi-media artist who I sometimes play Scrabble with. I gave her a copy of “The Jim and Dan Stories,” insisting that we make a trade after she gifted me with one of her handmade necklace creations. Once she read the book, she recommended it to her book club, which is how I came to be in the church that evening.

We met at Zeppoli’s, a Blacksburg Italian restaurant that makes home-made pasta, before the book club meeting at 7 pm. Alex arrived first. I found her sitting in a dark corner of the restaurant and immediately noticed that she didn’t look right, as if she was holding her breath. It didn’t take long for her to blurt out what was wrong; she had put down her favorite old horse that very day and was grief stricken about it. I tried to console her and wondered out loud if she would have the emotional stamina to attend the book club. What was the alternative, she questioned? She didn’t want to go home and be reminded of what had happened. At least the book club topic would be relevant.

At the church, while touring the art show, Alex shared that just days before in the same room the book club members were beginning to gather, she taught an art class on making mosaics. What kind of church hosts art shows and classes and has a giant mosaic with the word JOY spelled out hanging over the altar? Baptist is part of the church’s identity, but they have recently chose to be affiliated with the United Church of Christ because, "The UCC placed a comma in our lives where the Southern Baptists had placed a period," the pastor, Kelly was quoted on the United Church Press webpage as saying.

Alex made the Joy mosaic with shards from the minister’s own prized pottery that had been broken in an accident. It hung above the altar well before the “broken in the strong places” show. Perhaps it was the inspiration behind the show’s theme.

But I was there to talk about my book, and I did. The women were welcoming, the format informal. I was moved by how willing they were to share their own stories of losing loved ones, and I’m still thinking about some of the questions they asked me.

Sometimes memorable events can mean even more to me after they’ve happened. The next day, I was able to step back and see the theme through the previous evening that was not just the name of the art show. Alex’s mosaic was another fitting piece to the art of the evening, and so was my book. It too was like a mosaic, one of broken pieces and retrieved memories constructed by words to tell a story of love.

Even the book group related to the theme. We were a roomful of different women coming together as a whole to talk about grief and loss in an effort to make meaning out of it.

~ First posted on loose leaf notes on April 5, 2006.

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