I grew up near the Gulf of Mexico. I spent hours at the beach every summer, and I was fearless. I would swim out quite far never taking heed of the depth or the currents. I was once caught in a smack of passing jellyfish, and, yes, I was stung in all sorts of places. I’ve had fish caught in my swimsuit, been nipped by sand sharks, and even been stung by a Portuguese Man-of-War. I used to go crabbing which might account for the presence of sand sharks, and I once had a lifeguard urinate on my ankle in order to alleviate the pain of a jellyfish sting. It was the ultimate humiliation for my young, adolescent heart. He was too handsome and dashing for his own good, and I had hoped my futile attempt at flirting might lead to an exchange of phone numbers–not a furtive piss on my foot behind the lifeguard stand. I was embarrassed, wounded, and stinky. Horrid!
There was not a lot about the ocean that frightened me, but there was one thing that I did not like; I feared getting caught in a series of breaking waves. Sometimes near the shore a series of large waves will come crashing in. If you get caught in the surf zone as a series of plunging breakers come through, you might find yourself coming up for air only to find yourself being plunged to the bottom as another wave crashes down on your head. I was always a very strong swimmer so I wouldn’t panic when I was caught in the midst of strong breaking waves. It just took patience, deep breaths, and focus to slowly make my way to the beach if the waves got a hold of me. This is a good description for how I’m currently experiencing my life. I am caught in a line of plunging breakers. As soon as I rise to the surface to inhale, another wave breaks and I’m forcibly plunged to the bottom where I must wait until the current allows me to rise to the surface for another breath.
The flashbacks have calmed, I have begun to see an exquisitely lovely psychotherapist. The reality of my dear friend’s family member’s suicide has begun to settle in to us. Relief comes and goes as does grief and disbelief, but the initial shock has passed. Those waves have plunged and broken down upon us, and we have come up for the deep breaths. And then one night in my inbox I see a name. An email from a person whose name I haven’t seen in years. My father and his wife, my abusers, have another daughter. She was born when I was 15 years-old. She was special because she wasn’t me. I was a representation of his past life with my mother–all his mistakes, everything he wanted to pretend he was not, everything he wanted to deny he had done. I was essentially bastardized. I watched as this little girl was given everything that I was not–toys, lessons, opportunities, favor, attention, and love. She was the Golden Child. It would have been easy to resent her, but it wasn’t her fault that her parents hated me. I was always accused of myriad sins so when I cut off that relationship I always assumed they would continue to color me as the “bad one”, and yet here she was reaching out to me. Why? What on earth could this young woman want, and for God’s sake, why now?
Is it possible to be friends or even sisters with someone who does not want to know the truth? Even if she did want to know the truth, I don’t want her to know it. To know your parents as kind, loving, supportive, and caring seems miraculous to me because I don’t know either of my parents as such. Explaining to this young woman that her father married my mother when her own mother was only 9 years-old seems challenging. To go on to pull back the curtain on his well-crafted facade would only do her harm. It reminds me of the stories one hears about escaped Nazis who went on to to fabricate new identities in other countries. They remarried, had children, worked, retired, and enjoyed pleasant lives all the while hiding their true identities from their new wives, children, grandchildren, and communities. This is what my father has done, but to my half-sister he is no villain. He is her father. She knows him as loving and supportive. I know him as my worst nightmare. Is this relationship even possible?
Japanese potters have an interesting tradition dating back centuries. When a pot would crack it was not thrown out. Instead, it was repaired with resin but not camouflaged. Pure gold was painted over the resin repair to highlight the flaw. These flaws add value and character to a ceramic piece, and oftentimes these repaired pieces are preferred over perfect pieces. The cracks and repairs add value to the ceramic fetching a high price on the auction block.
Both the Tanakh and New Testament exhort us to have sincere love and sincere faith. Some believe that the word “sincere” comes from the Latin phrase “without wax”. This may be a fascinating etymological tidbit, an urban myth, or an old wives’ tale. Regardless of its origin, I like this explanation for its appropriate and rather inspirational metaphor. During times of ancient Roman rule, merchants who sold pottery used wax to fill in the cracks on broken pots. To the naive customer, each pot looked flawless, and the deceptive merchant was able to sell all his pots both broken and unblemished. Of course, once the customer took his purchase home he quickly discovered the hidden defect as the wax melted away leaving him with a visibly cracked pot. The contents inside the pot would then be visible if not leaking out. So, what does it mean for us then to be sincere people, and what does this have to do with Japanese ceramics?
I think that we are all “cracked” in some way, and we all have something glorious hidden within. What God is asking us to do as revealed in sacred texts is to allow the cracks to show so that our authenticity, the contents of our character, will be revealed. We spend so much time hiding behind personas of perfection and high performance; how are we ever to make meaningful connections with others much less reveal the glory of our authentic selves? The Japanese have taken it a step further. They repair the cracks and then highlight them with pure gold. They don’t feel the need to hide a flaw with wax; they celebrate the cracks and breaks!
The above tea bowl has been repaired with resin and gold. Look how beautiful the gold strokes are on the ebony glaze like lightning flashes on a black night sky. Imagine how this bowl might look without the repair work. Would it look as interesting? Would it be as beautiful? It would simply be another black tea bowl.
I’m going to bring this around to my earlier struggle. Am I to hide my cracks with my half-sister? Is a healthy relationship characterized by safety and honesty possible if I feel forced to fill in the flaws with denial particularly a denial maintained for someone else’s comfort? I have worked so hard to be sincere, to learn to live from a place of security and truth rather than fear, to live from a place of acceptance rather than shame. Am I to return to the “family’s way” of doing things simply because she’s curious now that she’s older?
For the survivor of sexual abuse and trauma, establishing safety is goal number one. Learning to come out from under the shame that so many of us have experienced and continue to battle is something to celebrate. People will come into our lives who will challenge our progress and make us reevaluate our healing. I went into my basement today and shouted to God, “I am not the bitter one. I have forgiven them! I have done that work even if you are the only witness to the contents of my heart. I am not their victim anymore.” And, sometimes that has to be enough. Sometimes God, how we understand him anyway, is the only witness to the true depths of the darkness we’ve known, and sometimes he’s the only witness to the true depths of the forgiveness we’ve offered…on this side of Heaven anyway.
I don’t have an easy answer to the problem with my half-sister, but I do know that I’m not willing to sacrifice my identity or my safety. And, I’m willing to entertain the idea that our vulnerabilities are worth revealing because they are, in part, what make us unique. It is an idea worth considering.