Broken window

Broken lines, broken strings
Broken threads, broken springs
Broken idols, broken heads
People sleeping in broken beds
Ain’t no use jiving
Ain’t no use joking
Everything is broken.

Broken bottles, broken plates
Broken switches, broken gates
Broken dishes, broken parts
Streets are filled with broken hearts
Broken words never meant to be spoken
Everything is broken.

Seem like every time you stop and turn around
Something else just hit the ground
Broken cutters, broken saws
Broken buckles, broken laws
Broken bodies, broken bones
Broken voices on broken phones
Take a deep breath feel like you’re chokin’
Everything is broken.

Everytime you leave and go off someplace
Things fall to pieces in my face
Broken hands on broken ploughs
Broken treaties, broken vows
Broken pipes, broken tools
People bending broken rules
Hound dog howling, bullfrog croaking
Everything is broken.

Bob Dylan

Don’t you have those days, weeks and even years when it feels like everything is breaking down?

My sweet lovely sister is beyond frustrated this morning, because her relatively new Mac has had a hard drive failure for the second time during the last year. I could just cry for her. And I might. (I also feel responsible since I love my Mac and vociferously encouraged her to get one for herself. I am really sorry that it has been a bad experience.) As she said repeatedly as a small child, It’s not fair! And it isn’t.

On Thursday evening a few weeks ago, the toilet clogged up just as Jeremy and Jesse were rushing out, late to basketball. We recently bought a more expensive (thicker) toilet paper and Dylan had put in the same amount he has been accustomed to using of the cheaper, flimsier stuff. Instantly…water all over the bathroom floor, dripping down to make a puddle in the basement. Meanwhile, I was in the kitchen making some kind of pathetic supper for all of us, fighting a cough, and facing a late night of work because of a grant proposal deadline the next day. In the midst of all of this chaos, I burst into tears and just gave up for about 20 minutes.

But this was thankfully just one day. And the car did not break down. For some reason, the car breaking down makes me feel as though the universe has completely abandoned me. It is the proverbial straw that breaks my camel’s back. And I am not having one of those years, though I have had them. But some of the people I love are having one of those years. Or several years in a row of one of those years.

My mom had one of those years in 2009. Her 91-year old mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and my mom had to make all of the decisions about how best to care for her. Less than 6 months later, my mom was herself diagnosed with breast cancer. Meanwhile, my sister was on an extended trip overseas and wasn’t due back until 6 weeks after my mom’s surgery. She lives across the street from my parents, so would have been a tremendous support to them during that time.

Mom was understandably pretty darn happy when 2010 rolled around.

We are surrounded by broken jobs, relationships, houses, cars, computers, appliances, and our bodies are definitely breaking down too. (Though I will admit that the fact that any of these things work at all seems pretty miraculous from one perspective.)

Why is everything breaking down?

A Christian’s explanation of this is that we live in a fallen world. Which is relatively easy to see (I mean, just look around), but not as easy to accept. It is far easier to assign some kind of reason for the things that are happening to be happening. To expect things to work out perfectly and to blame someone when it doesn’t turn out that way. Or, to assume that because things should be great all of the time, this must mean that there’s something wrong with us.

My idealist’s mind used to think that perfection was actually a completely reasonable expectation.

And that a less than perfect outcome was directly related to how not lovable I was. For example: that my wedding day being chilly and rainy was a highly personal statement from God about my (lack of) worthiness to have nice weather for my wedding pictures.

I think that I have one of the most unscientific minds around. It simply is not one of my gifts. And my father-in-law is a scientist. Even as recently as a few years ago, he and I were discussing why everything in our house was always falling apart and I was lamenting the fact that we couldn’t ever seem to stay on top of all of the repairs. It felt like we were constantly putting a stopper into a leaking hole.

He matter-of-factly pointed out to me that this is because everything is (scientifically speaking) spinning off into chaos. As humans we spend most of our time trying to prevent this from happening. He didn’t seem even remotely upset about this. For me, hearing this was like getting hit over the head and waking up in an alternate universe.

Chaotic behavior is the rule, not the exception, in the world we experience through our senses, the world governed by the laws of classical physics. – Science Daily

Are you kidding me? This was the exact opposite of what I had thought my entire life. With 20/20 hindsight, this made perfect sense though. And accepting it makes my life a lot less frustrating. I try to share this hard-won wisdom with my 12-year old. So many of his little dissatisfactions in life relate to whether things do or do not meet his expectations.

The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem.
– Theodore Rubin

Anne Lamott is my go-to author when I am feeling broken and looking for not only some commiseration, but comic relief and clarity. I love how she displays such brilliance on a topic, then feels perfectly ok admitting to incredibly petty thoughts and feelings. For example:

He said that…when a lot of seemingly meaningless things started going wrong all at once, it was to protect something big and lovely that was trying to get itself born — that, in other words, perhaps it needed for you to be distracted so it could be born perfect.

I totally believe this to be true; and I especially believe it when other people’s things are breaking down. When it’s my stuff, I believe the cause is that I’m a bad person.

Broken things have been on my mind as the year lurches to an end, because so much broke and broke down this year in my life, and in the lives of the people I love. Lives broke, hearts broke, health broke, minds broke. On the first Sunday of Advent our preacher, Veronica, said that this is life’s nature, that lives and hearts get broken, those of people we love, those of people we’ll never meet. She said the world sometimes feels like the waiting room of the emergency ward, and that we, who are more or less OK for now, need to take the tenderest possible care of the more wounded people in the waiting room, until the healer comes. You sit with people, she said, you bring them juice and graham crackers. And then she went on vacation.

“Traveling mercies,” the old black people at our church said to her when she left. This is what they say when one of us goes off for a while. Traveling mercies: Be safe, notice beauty, enjoy the journey, God is with you.

For more on broken things from Anne Lamott, click here. Be warned, her language can get pretty spicy. For me, it just adds to the authenticity of what she shares with us…I consider it a privilege to see what she sees and feel what she feels.

She’s been broken. Just like me.

And she also believes, just like me, that it will all be ok in the end. This world may be chaotic, but there is another realm–a spiritual one rather than a temporal one–in space and time which is not. Because in spite of the brokenness, in spite of the chaos, it really does make sense to yearn for an ideal, for justice, for fairness, someday.

But today might not be the day. So have your mop handy, just in case.