A Gift of Love That Can’t Be Broken
Emily, the bowl broke. The one you gave me us as a wedding gift nearly 22 years ago.
I was in the bathroom when I heard the crash. I knew exactly what it was. I had enlisted my son and his friend to do the dishes. It becomes a game when you’re not the one who does the dishes every night after night after night and you have a friend over to help. They were happy and having fun. It’s good I was in the bathroom. I had time to pause and think about my reaction. Not like my husband who blurted out something like “What the hell are you thinking?!” I didn’t know he cared about the bowl. He is surprisingly sentimental and attached to the stuff of our life together.
We received a lot of bowls as wedding gifts to celebrate our marriage. We call it the wedding of the bowls. And why not? The symbolism of a bowl ready to be filled with food, life, and love is apt. I broke a beautiful large handmade pottery salad bowl the first time I washed it. It was heavy and the soap made it slip right out of my hands. It was a gift from a dear friend. I was crushed, unsure I was going to be good at this marriage, and fretted that I would not be able to reciprocate all the dinners she hosted for me. We break out a lovely Nambé bowl on the occasions when we have friends over for dinner. There are the attractive and useful pasta bowls that we use all the time. And there’s the really ugly bowl that is probably still in the basement in its box.
Yours, dear Emily, was special. A set of two handmade bowls by an artisan ceramicist in Chapel Hill. We used the smaller one, the one that broke, just about every night. It held the evening’s sugar snaps, or cantaloupe chunks, or little red potatoes, or rice and beans, or my daughter’s crop of eggplant from the last summer before she went to college. Usually it held Sally’s Salad. We still have the larger one, but it’s the smaller one that was so much a part of our daily life, with its pretty fluted rim.
As I paused in the bathroom, I pondered the symbolism of the broken bowl. The lovely vessel given to me us by my oldest friend, more a sister to me. The container that held so much of our family dinner, our family life, our family love. Is the broken bowl a harbinger of a broken marriage, a broken friendship? Will our marriage survive the transition to dinners with just the two of us? No children? No bowl? Is the break a referendum on how I do friendships? Busy busy busy and self-absorbed, geographically distant. How does anyone sustain deeply meaningful relationships anymore?
I can’t believe we thought you would make it to the wedding. Three weeks after giving birth to your first-born. It didn’t seem possible to set a different date that would work better for you. As we become adults, the relationship with our partner becomes the priority relationship over other relationships. We move to be with them. And then if and when the children arrive, nothing is more important than the next generation. We think we have time. Like a college student traveling in a foreign country who thinks they will come back and have time to appreciate the exotic destination. We think next year I will make time to visit my friend. Next reunion I will make time to catch up with my friends. But before we know it, we run out of time.
After 22 years of marriage and 42 years of friendship, however, the bonds are deeper than ever. More forgiving of past transgressions, more tolerant of differences, more appreciative of shared history, more interested than ever in each other’s lives.
I leave the bathroom, anxious to let the boys know I understand the broken bowl is an accident. I know they feel badly. After all, it is the gift of love represented by the bowl that is what matters, not the bowl itself.
Thank you Emily for all you have given me.
I’m like one of those Japanese bowls
That were made long ago
I have some cracks in me
They have been filled with gold
That’s what they used back then
When they had a bowl to mend
It did not hide the cracks
It made them shine instead
So now every old scar shows
from every time I broke
And anyone’s eyes can see
I’m not what I used to be
But in a collector’s mind
All of these jagged lines
Make me more beautiful
And worth a higher price
I’m like one of those Japanese bowls
I was made long ago
I have some cracks you can see
See how they shine of gold.
This was such a touching story, and I had never heard of cracks being filled with gold to make an object more beautiful — how wonderful!