When I have a spacious weekend afternoon, I enjoy taking a few hours to clean and care for my home. There is something about dusting what is dirty and beautifying my space that is deeply nourishing to me – offering a physical expression of my gratitude and love towards the home where I live and to the objects that I treasure.
Likewise, lately I have been tinkering with tasks of mending and repairing – sewing missing buttons, repairing a ripped seam on a pillow that’s been leaking stuffing in my living room, and taking larger repair projects to a local seamstress to be patched and put back together again.
Like cleaning, there is something deeply nourishing about repairing what had once been broken, and breathing new life into that which had been unused, perhaps over used!, or cast off – especially in a society so fixated on acquiring the new, buying more, and throwing out what is no longer ‘good.’
Mending as an expression of love
Cleaning, repairing, mending: these things are not just tasks or chores, but qualities – expressions of love.
As expressions of love, they can shed light on how we approach anything that needs repairing or that feels no longer ‘good:’ how do we care for own wounds, for those things that need our care, warmth, and tending?
How do we approach our own opened seams and missing buttons – the tears in the fabric of our being? How do we approach each other’s?
Walking into the deeper story
Right now, a person very dear to me is struggling. It is painful, and at times alarming to walk beside them.
But while my heart breaks to see their suffering and pain, I do not see my loved one as troubled, or broken, or damaged, but merely a beloved soul who is feeling overwhelmed, suffering, and needing more support – as anyone might feel or need when experiencing pain.
When my heart is open, I sense the deeper story: their being is being birthed into a greater fullness and wholeness. As my friend Ashley says, something is being born here in the dark. Or, as activist Valarie Kaur, founder of Revolutionary Love puts it – “Breathe and push.”
“Breathe and push”
When something hurts, and when we are in pain, it is our natural, normal human response to feel broken and to then move to fix it – or to fix whatever we believe is its cause, like ourselves.
But if we can trust that something is being born when we are in pain or distress, then we can make room for our experience exactly as it is. Our experience, our pain isn’t wrong. There is room for it to exist, and for it to give birth to whatever it is giving birth to.
As poet John O’ Donohue said, it is a ‘reverence of approach.’
Curduroy and coming home
One of my favorite examples of this ‘reverent approach’ can be found in a children’s story, Corduroy, by beloved children’s author and illustrator Don Freeman.
Corduroy is a curious stuffed bear who lives in a department store downtown – back in the days when many cities had a multi story, downtown department store where you could buy a Sunday dress, sheets for your bed, and yes, a beloved toy, all at the same place.
One day, a young girl, Lisa, sees Corduroy and wants him to be her very own bear. When she shares this with her mother, her mother says no, that she is tired of shopping, that it is time to go home, that Lisa has plenty of stuffed animals – and besides, one of the buttons on Corduroy’s overalls are missing.
Thus ensues an adventure as Corduroy searches for his missing button – for he so wants to be taken home, played with and loved. Ah, don’t we all?
And don’t we all have moments upon moments upon moments when someone has told us in certain terms that we have missing buttons – all the ways we’re not good enough, or are too much, or should be different; all the ways our bodies or our feelings or our needs are not okay – buttons we search and search and search to find or fill or fix, for we so want to be taken home and loved.
In the morning, Lisa comes to buy this little bear, missing button and all.
One of the most poignant moments in the story is when Lisa, after bringing Curduroy home to her apartment, sews on his missing button. She says to him: “I like you the way you are…But you’ll be more comfortable with your shoulder strap fastened.”
So simple, so true.
When our pain becomes bread and water
This story has long struck me as an example of how to approach those things that are small, tender, and vulnerable in ourselves – those things that long for welcome – those things in need of repair, healing, and care.
We are loved just as we are. We are not irrevocably damaged or broken because we need help, support or care: repair, healing, a sewn on button, or when, like the velveteen rabbit, we become shabby and worn from good use.
And like Corduroy, and like my loved one, and like our relationship with food, we may feel more comfortable with two working shoulder straps instead of one.
It’s a question of kindness – attuning to what is needed, and caring for what hurts or chafes or is ill fitting – not of worth.
In my experience, it is through grief and forgiveness that the shrill, hard edges of “I’m broken” start to shift, moving us into a place of softness, where we can see and touch and feel and taste and become intimate with our pain and heartache without the layers of blame, judgment and “I should’ve known better.” It’s what enables us to relate differently to those missing or broken buttons.
We know – deeply know – and it sinks in how much it – we – have hurt.
In this alchemy, our pain becomes bread, and food, and water – a meal that leads us to the table of the sacred within ourselves, the Love that resides at the core of our being. It is a gateway to tenderness, to care, and when needed, to lovingly and tenderly sew on the button on our shoulder straps.
I’ll end with a quote that a student once shared in a class, and one that I think you may like, too. This is from Matthew Brensilver.
“Self compassion is about gently opening to the exquisite tenderness of being human….In the moment of self harshness, we are confronted by our imperfections, our foibles, the limitations of our control and will – and in this confrontation, our heart closes. We forget that in these moments, we’re actually seeing something important and universal about the human condition. Moment by moment, life either softens or hardens the heart. We’re training ourselves so that in these moments, the heart relaxes and we learn something important about being human.”