Things can be more beautiful once they have been broken.
When I was six, my family took a trip to visit my great aunt in Maine. We didn’t have an air-conditioned car, so to alleviate our misery my parents decided to stop along the way at a museum park. Costumed staff there demonstrated and explained 19th century farm and village life. I was fascinated.
But it was at the gift shop that I fell in love. There was a small doll for sale, a reproduction of the type dressmakers once used to show samples and styles of their work. Her porcelain head was painted with gentle blue eyes, rosy cheeks and delicate “kiss curls” at the nape of her neck. Her wooden body was jointed so that she could bend her arms and sit. She was $5, a lot of money for a child’s souvenir in 1966. I knew not to ask for her.
My father saw me gazing longingly at her, and, relinquishing his usual frugality, he bought her for me. I was in awe. My mother unknotted the small silk kerchief she was wearing so I could dress the doll. (Later she would sew beautiful little outfits for her to wear.) The doll became my most beloved possession, really more a companion than a toy.
One spring day a friend and I were playing with this doll out in the garden. Our wooded backyard was luminous and perfumed by masses of white, lavender and pink azaleas. We had made a mossy rock into a doll cottage, furnished with acorn cap bowls and the like.
As we made our way back inside, I carried the accessories we had fashioned. My friend carried the doll. When she stumbled on the stone stair, the doll’s head shattered into tiny splintered fragments that scattered into the surrounding ivy.
My heart, too, shattered in that moment.
When my father came home, he quietly gathered up the shards of what had once been my doll’s face. I knelt beside him, earnestly seeking even the smallest slivers. At his workbench, over several days, with glue, tweezers and infinite patience, he gradually pieced my doll’s head back together.
She was not what she once had been. Her sweet face was now slightly askew, and a small hole in her forehead was patched with putty. But even as a girl, I recognized that my doll was more beautiful restored than she had ever been before.
Over time, I have had my heart shattered by more serious losses, including my father’s death and an unsalvageable marriage. At such times, my despair has forced me to seek help. Then others, as my father once did, have provided steadiness and practical support. And I have patiently and humbly knelt again, gathering up pieces of my life, refashioning them into something that is more beautiful because of its imperfection. Love binds together the mended parts, love that I might never have experienced if there were no brokenness in my life.