Cracked Bowls, Empty Bowls
Acceptance, 14 x 14
I have a friend Chloe.
Chloe doesn’t take up a lot of space in the world. She has curly reddish hair, light blue eyes, a pointed nose, freckles all over her body and a gentleness that is striking. Sometimes she is just awkward and shy. She isn’t on social media. She is a single mother to two kids. She works a grief counselor in a long-term rehabilitation centre. She works with nuns.
She leaves spaces in the conversation. Although she doesn't have much money, she has nice pottery.
I love going into her slanted bathroom. There are always poetry books. Not for display but because she reads them. There will be handmade soap with flowers or oatmeal in it.
Chloe has lived simply, and doesn’t need much.
My guess is her inner world might be sufficient.
I’ve seen Chloe a handful of times in twenty-five years.
I’ve been sad about that.
She might answer my emails, but maybe not.
I’ve told myself to get over it.
The problem is that I pretty much want to eat her.
That might be scary for her.
Chloe lives next door to her sister Bonnie who has the same freckles. There is a short stone path connecting their back doors to one another. I imagine them at kitchen tables with tea, surrounded by kids.
Last June, as exams were finishing, Chloe’s eldest daughter Amber went to a party. At the end of the evening she got into a car with a gaggle of 16 year olds, along with a sober driver.
They hit the gravel on the side of the road and then crashed into a retaining wall on someone’s front lawn.
Chloe's daughter died on impact.
Last night as I was lying in bed I said to Jake, and not for the first time, "How can anyone deal with that much pain? Let alone Chloe, who finds the spikyness of life already too much?".
Jake threw an extra wool blanket on our bed and said “Well as Hobbes said, life is nasty, brutish and short.”.
Jake says this with a sigh, but also dismissively.
He has told me outright that he doesn’t want to think about Chloe.
He didn’t need to say: thinking about maybe possibly maybe being in her shoes flattens me to the ground.
And he is right—what does it serve to imagine?
Yet I go there a lot.
Because I am grateful we’ve been okay.
Or because I’m familiar with loss.
Or because living fully means exploring all ends of the spectrum.
I have a book called Everyday Sacred. In it the author talks a lot about bowls. Empty bowls that receive, inverted bowls that don’t. Dirty bowls that contaminate, cracked bowls that are mended with silver. Author Sue Bender describes the Buddhist practice of walking the street with an empty bowl and being open to receiving any gifts. Maybe a clump of rice.
Bender describes overflowing bowls and her yearning to be enough that frustratingly cannot be satisfied.
She also describes a mammogram that doesn’t go well.
I don’t want this in my bowl, she says.
I have nothing but a trickle of helpless warm words to offer Chloe. This is utterly irrelevant to her and streams past her. She doesn’t even know which way is up, and I am in a concentric ring too far away.
Chloe has a good man Paul. He has changed his work schedule and sits beside her, reaches for her hand and scrapes her off the floor. She has young strong, functional and supportive parents.
When Chloe's daughter died a circle of women sat vigil in her garden for days and were available to go upstairs to her.
I find the bowl analogy helpful. Sometimes we have to take what is in our bowl, even when it is nasty and brutish.
And you say, well, I’ve got this bowl. That is what is here right now, scars and all.