After Emily and I got an estimate to have a professional paint our stairwell ($10,000?!), we asked our neighbor Kurt who makes his living hanging wallpaper for his advice. Could we paint it ourselves? You bet. Kurt set us up with scaffolding. He even jumped on it, thereby proving it was trustworthy. He also examined the ceiling with its strangely peeling paint, the rim of painted-over wallpaper along the top edge, and the long horizontal crack running the length of our hallway wall. For ten grand the pros would have fixed these. Kurt waved them off. He ran his hand along the jagged split in the plaster. “Nope,” he said. “That’s your crack. It’s for keeps.”
Our house is eighty years old; of course it has settled, shifted, and cracked. For an exceptional amount of money we (hypothetically) could have repaired the glitches in our hallway, but that was a degree of perfectionism that neither Emily nor I could stomach. Between caring deeply for a house and an extreme focus on aesthetics lies a fine line. Besides, the affection in Kurt’s voice was infectious: “Your crack.” We’ve patched a little now and painted, and our crack is still there. It’s for keeps.
Leonard Cohen sings, “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.” A crack in the wall that lets in light is worth money and effort to fix, but metaphorically you get what Cohen means. Smile wrinkles give a face real beauty. Our beloved’s flaws might drive us crazy, but they’re also endearing and a source of true love. Only the destruction of a wild fire will break open the jack pine cone and release its seeds. Unfathomable as it may seem, our very human brokenness is the entrance for transcendence and transformation.
Spending outrageous resources to cover up or even try to fix our brokenness is pointless; I’d even go so far as to say it’s a form of denial. We mess up. We make mistakes. We have bad moods and cultivate hidden prejudices and are mean to people we love. Certainly we’re called to do our best—to be kind, to act justly and love mercy and walk humbly. It’s important to care for the house. But perfectionism isn’t the goal. Wholeness is. Our cracks are for keeps, and the spirit of a loving life flourishes when we accept this, put up a fresh coat of paint, and move on. –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew
Happy new year’s greetings on this cold January day!
Have you read Living Revision? Consider writing a quick online review–on Facebook, Amazon, Goodreads, your blog… I appreciate your help in spreading the word.
Interested in writing spiritual memoir? I’m teaching an introduction called Writing the Sacred Journey at Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality on February 9, 9 a.m.-noon. You’re also welcome to drop into the ongoing second Friday series:
2/ 9: Dreams, Our Most Intimate Scripture
3/9: Writing as Exercising Forgiveness
4/13: Characters: Real People in Two Dimensions (This session is facilitated by Carolyn Holbrook)
6/8: Adding by Subtraction
Hope to see you there!