Psychotherapy listservs are bursting with discussion of how to cope. Among the offerings are lines from Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” in which he says
Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.
This celebration of the imperfect or, in these days, the uncertain and scary, these words of acceptance that we are not in control, have no hope of perfection, and yet that is not the same as failure. “That’s how the light gets in” is a quotation I’ve used in my psychotherapy practice with patients who are perfectionistic, narcissistic, obsessional, and other forms of seeking the impossible. Embracing ourselves wholly, “warts and all” as is said, is a way of health that does not accept pathology but does accept the realities of pain, damage, loss, and other realities of living.
The listerve on this topic I read cited a “shattered container” as a metaphor for our situation. It prompted this recollection of my own, and I want to share it hear because I believe it illustrates how we can be happy and sad, hoping and despairing, trying and failing, and all manner of imperfect ways of experiencing life. Here is what I wrote:
That shattered container description is so apt. If not totally in fragments yet, there are many cracks threatening the integrity of the whole. I am reminded of the shattering of a very unimportant but lovely green glass pitcher my mother bought in the unfit-for-sale room of a glass blower in West Virginia when I was a child: the pitcher’s handle was off center. It was wonderful and priceless and was broken by a careless mover who tossed it in a box unpadded during a move. I found, somehow, an artisan in a crevice of a shop somewhere in NYC who repaired broken crystal (this was NOT crystal). He put it back together with skill and care, and it sits on a high shelf in my apartment where I feel happy and sad when I see it every day (sad because I miss my mother).
My points: My mother and I shared a love of the imperfect particularly because it was imperfect. And, maybe we can be artisans who don’t make cracks go away or even become invisible, but who restore a wholeness that means all is not destroyed. The best-as-possible repaired cracks and off center handle are part of the character of this object that contains and evokes powerful connection. Maybe we can think about rupture and repair with a future that rests on connection not destruction.
If these be pipe dreams, and the future will be far less possible to repair, we will face it then. I offer this personal memory to encourage self-inventory of times when a potential permanent destruction is averted, a solution is found, a future arrives that is less than feared. Just remembering such a sequence and time can be a self-consolation. Dwelling on the converse – situations that only led to worse – is not helpful. It’s like the paranoid or obsessional person who lives to avoid being taken unawares by a thought or event. Not without any truth to it, such negative ruminations have a depressive psychological cumulative effect. Sharing them with those around us spreads the despair. The light will get in somehow through some crack in whatever comes next.