We had to drive north awhile ago to take my sister and her family to the Vancouver airport for their flight back to China. On our way home we decided to stop by Birch Bay, a little rocky beach a stone’s throw from where we used to live. I wanted to take the little boys there. I’m not sure all of the reasons why, I think I had a romantic notion that it would be fun to stand on the same ground I had stood and dreamed about them on. But deeper than that I think I was hoping for a do-over. A grand wiping of old and bad memories. As if being happy enough in the same place I had been so miserable would force an emotional reboot of sorts. But memories don’t work like that. And mistakes we made in the past seem to stand out no matter how well we analyze. Like a Picasso in a room full of Monets they’ll always just be there, not quite fitting in. And moving there was our grand mistake.
It was not exactly the happy sunshiny day I was hoping for on Birch Bay. Instead the weather was exactly as gloomy as I remembered it was the fall we moved there, back when it felt like we didn’t see the sun for the first nine months. It could be because the apartment we lived in was as cheerful as the inside of a tomb, but when I think back at that time it’s like watching a movie in black and white, a grainy one where the action is jerky and the sound doesn’t match. That apartment was like a bowling alley. Downstairs was one long room: kitchen, dining area, living area. Blond laminate floors, the cheap kind that feel like you’re walking on plastic. The upstairs was dark green carpet that felt rough underneath your feet. I didn’t know carpet could feel rough. It was cold, devoid of any kind of soul or life. Homes should have souls shouldn’t they? They should greet you when you walk in the door like an affectionate pet. When we were shopping for our current house I remember the feeling it gave off the minute we walked in the door. It was sad. So sad. Seven years of being neglected will do that to a house. It’s different now. That old apartment never did get happy. It was like a zombie house. Mimicking life and rotting inside. The funny thing was it was almost brand new. So maybe more Frankenstein than Zombie.
A few yards from where we walked with our little boys was the firepit we used to use. We had so many picnics there, the sounds of the crackling fire intermixed with the waves lapping the pebbles on the beach. Fire and water. Who would have though they went so well together? We took our Christmas tree there onetime, a tiny little Charlie Brown tree. About two or three feet high. It had sat on our back porch until it was dry as old timber. We set it on fire and the flames leaped into the air, six or seven feet high. And then it was gone. Such a metaphor for our time in that town. It all started out with such promise, expectations, high hopes that burned up in a hot second into nothing but ash.
We moved there on an invitation from someone in Nate’s family. Things didn’t work out. We left when Nate got a job two hours south, in Seattle. That’s the polite, Reader’s Digest version. Everyone has those in their life don’t they? Those condensed versions of events in our lives that we recite like a one act play when the real version is a Dicken’s novel. Perhaps politeness is overrated.
Our time of living in that town will always blend with the time right before it, when we went through a difficult (there’s that politeness again) situation with our church. And I’ve struggled with how to categorize those two times, those two stories. The years that shouldn’t have happened? The years that changed us? Both true. I would have liked to skip over them, but I don’t want to give back the lessons we learned. So maybe it’s good to revisit them from time to time. To remember where the bits and pieces of brokenness in my life come from. To remember standing next to each other on what felt like the tiniest, most exposed island, while the world swirled around us. Broken can lead you places you wouldn’t have the courage to go before. Broken can mean you hear differently, see differently, feel differently. And here’s where I’m supposed to put the final line about how broken was the start of something glorious. Of how it made me a better person and how it worked out for the better and I’m in such a better place, and I would do it all over again…
But I don’t think that’s a fair way to wrap up thoughts on brokenness. That makes it too easy to believe that being broken is the problem, when it’s not. Brokenness is the badge of being human, of being part of a messed up and beautiful world.
Broken can’t be fixed, but it can be put back together.
The first time I walked into St Peter’s in Rome a choir was singing and light was streaming through the windows. I looked up at the beauty and marveled at how perfect it all was. How flawlessly beautiful. A few days later we were in the dome area and it was only then I could see that some of what looked like paintings when standing below were, in fact, mosaics. These tiny pieces of brokenness coming together to form something glorious.
That’s what I long for in my life. That someday I can look back and see these moments of broken-and-put-back-together as tiny pieces of some larger, grander theme. The peace I’m seeking doesn’t come from not being broken. It comes from believing that broken is okay.