Monday, May 18, 2020

You are not broken, and the story of the Chinese pot...

"Depression thrives in secrecy, but shrinks in empathy."
                                                     --Jane Clayson Johnson 

The China House, in Tianjin, China a museum full of rehabilitated broken pots and plates.
Last summer I spent a glorious day with a dear friend whom I have known for many years. Through the decades I have known her, she has confided several times to me about the sexual abuse she experienced as a child. As a friend listening, I could feel, but not know, some of the shadows and darkness she has experienced. To me, she has always been a woman of immense strength, wisdom, and creativity. I felt pain for both the child and adult chapters of her life that have known such agony.

But last summer our conversation was different. Through much therapy and remarkable people, she has been healing in the last few years. Somehow she has found mercy and forgiveness--forging her on a new path. Her spirit was light-filled for me that day--like suddenly discovering a tree full of fireflies on a dark summer night. Tears flowed in our eyes as she shared her journey. Although no child should ever know abuse of any kind, she taught me how she has come through the tunnel to the other side of light.

On that beautiful day when old friends connected soul-to-soul, I shared with her a Chinese folk tale story about two pots--one was seemingly perfectly perfect, and the other had some cracks and holes in it:

Once upon a time, there was an old Chinese woman who had two large pots. Each hung on the ends of a pole, which she carried across her shoulders. Every day, she used this device to carry water to her home. It was a fair distance to carry the water every day, but she managed cheerfully.

One of the pots was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of her destination. The other pot had a deep crack in it and would leak--all the way from the river to her home. She would arrive home, and the cracked pot would be half-way full. For two full years, the woman brought home one and a half pots of water. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, but the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its imperfection. The old cracked pot felt miserable and sad that every day she only brought a pot that was half full.

One day, the old woman heard an unexpected voice underneath her as she carried the water. She looked down, and who should be talking to her, but the old cracked pot. The pot woefully explained her sadness, "I am miserable because of my crack. I can only provide you half of a pot of water when you return from the river. I am so sorry that my crack leaks much of the water you daily carry to your home."

The wise old woman smiled and comfortingly said, "Have you ever looked out and noticed there are flowers on your side of the path, and not on the other pot's side? I have always known about your crack, so I planted seeds on your side of the path. Every day when we walk back home you have watered these beautiful flowers to decorate the table and give to my friends. Without you being the way you are, there would not be so much beauty in the world."

As I walk around China, I often see pictures and sculptures of people carrying pots of water they are transporting from a well or river. Beautiful porcelain pots and bowls adorn museums and restaurants. Here in Tianjin, China, there is even a large museum that is covered with old porcelain plates and pots that have been made into walls that adorn the broken pottery. The entire structure is comprised of broken Chinese porcelain or leaky pots.

Whoever we are and whatever has happened in our lives, we are never broken or shattered. Sometimes people have a constant battle of hopelessness, loneliness, fear-- feeling completely defective--broken. The best thing about the leaky Chinese pot is that she talked to the old woman. She revealed her overwhelming sadness of not feeling enough.

The cracked pot put some unnecessary burdens on herself--thinking she had to be like the pot on the other side of the pole the woman was carrying. However, she learned that she was not only enough the way she was, but she also had a gift to make the world more beautiful. But she would have never known her gift if she had not allowed herself to be vulnerable and talk to the old woman about her pain. As Reyna I Aburto says, "When we open up about our emotional challenges, admitting we are not perfect, we give others permission to share their struggles. Together we realize there is hope and we do not have to suffer alone."

During this worldwide coronavirus, people are in pain in a myriad of ways. Listening, being kind, and allowing others to talk about their fears and sadness can alleviate so much unnecessary misery. We can help others put together their broken pieces--reminding them of their intrinsic beauty and wonder. And if on a particular day or week or month we cannot shake our brokenness, get some relief and help. There are people out there to patch things up again. Like my dear friend, we all deserve to come through the tunnel to the other side of light.

We don't have to be exactly like every pot around us...

Some "perfect" pots in a market that haven't yet received their gold-filled repairs yet. But when they need it, we can show others that renovation is possible and even beautiful.

We don't have to carry a broken, burdensome pot around--and push it around for the rest of our lives. We can ask for help.

This picture is on all the billboards around here by the bus stops in Tianjin. We can all share and help one another when others have to carry some heavy burdens.

Sharing our burdens and sorrows allows others to share their struggles too. We become more bonded in our trials so we can heal again.

The best and most expensive kind of Japanese Kintsugi pottery is repaired with gold--showing the exquisite mended edges and cracks. It is thought to be more beautiful because it reveals the history of its brokenness.

      Some pictures of "The China House" in Tianjin, China--a must-see place if you visit here. 


  1. I love you, dear cousin! Your wisdom is such a blessing and a gift <3

  2. Beautiful writing, Maryan, and some truly lovely, timely thoughts. Thank you for sharing! Much love to you!! ❤️