A couple of weeks ago I posted a video titled Broken is Beautiful. It is of a young woman who makes art out of x-rays that reveal some sort of brokenness, some hidden pain, some deformity. I've been thinking about brokenness and beauty...Is there really beauty there or is it just a cover up? Surely we all know the ugliness of brokenness. We live with it every day in our own hearts.
My students and I have just finished Les Miserables in my World Lit. II class. It is a story about a convict...a man so broken, so ugly, so hardened he almost kills the only one who takes him in and feeds him. And when that one, that priest, enters into the ugliness with him, he is undone: “Jean Valjean, my brother: you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I am withdrawing it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I am giving it to God!"
The rest of the 1000+ page novel portrays the result of one man's seeing and touching and transforming the ugliness. But not just one man...because Jean Valjean then becomes the one who touches the broken and brings hope. He not only touches, he enters into it. One of the most powerful scenes in the book depicts Jean ValJean entering into the sewers of Paris carrying an unconscious "enemy," his daughter's love, to save him from arrest. He is up to his neck in slime, baptized in excrement, while he holds the wounded Marius above him. Talk about entering in....
So I asked my students what makes a beautiful life? Here are some of their responses:
[to live] a life to it's fullest... that [is] beautiful.
A beautiful life has struggle and heartache, like every other life. Beauty comes from pain, a beautiful life is one where suffering is overcome, and joy is brought out of it.
To me, living a beautiful life goes hand in hand with living a meaningful life... if you surround yourself with people that you love and care about, and strive to protect and take care of them, than you've lived a beautiful life, and you go on living in the hearts and stories of others. My view of a beautiful life is surrounding myself with the people that I love, and people that love me back.
What makes a beautiful life for me is knowing there is only one of me, in the world and in my existance, and living every moment so perfectly in my mind creates a sense of beauty.
For me, I think it comes from looking beyond yourself to something more. Looking beyond clothes and popularity and money and weight to something greater. "Something more" is different for each person walking this earth, but most of the time it includes family, friends, hobbies, or religion. Like finding something you love to do and doing it. Or spending time making meaningful relationships with the important people in your life. Or helping others. Or searching for God.
To me, the beautiful life is the one I live....I have known no better and no worse. Therefore I have nothing to compare to. The beautiful life is the one that is mine, to me anyway. my beautiful life entails a given meaning, an importance that I didn't have to create for myself, and that in itself is beautiful enough for me.
I find beauty in life when people triumph over their struggles and become closer to the people around them through it.
When I read their responses, I noticed how much they mentioned people and relationships. Which brings me back to my original question: Is there really beauty in brokenness? And is our brokenness only beautiful when someone else enters it with us? really sees and loves anyway? If relationships bring beauty to brokenness, they also have the potential to make it ugly, we have the potential to make life ugly for others...it is part of our brokenness. So what do we do? I hope that we enter in, that we choose (when we have a choice) to bring life and beauty to others, even when it means that we get covered in crap, others and our own, because surely that's when we experience beauty the most.
(This paradox of beauty in brokenness reminds me of my daughter's experience when she was holding the hand of a dying woman in Calcutta. You can revisit her post here...amazing, powerful story--an unexpected glimpse of beauty).