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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Salvaging Shakespeare, and Me



When something I’ve treasured has been broken it’s not in me to throw it away unless it’s broken beyond repair. Today I’m working on a sculpture of mine that looked just like Shakespeare (so I imagine.) That's it, up at the top of this page. It broke before being fired so I could have simply soaked it in water and punched it back into a lump of clay to start over, but I could never recapture that first likeness. I’ll try to put it together with some slip (wet clay) and see if it can be fired. If it comes out of the kiln the way I expect, my Shakespeare will be salvaged and I’ll treasure him all the more. Maybe I’ll call him The Salvaged Shakespeare.

The dictionary defines salvage in part as “the rescue of a property from destruction.” That’s me, all right. I pick up stuff. Like pennies in the street or pine cones in the park. And I’ve even been known to pick up something out of a dumpster. Only yesterday I found a hat box there. Looked brand new. It was in with the recycling things. One of those hat boxes with two or three other matching boxes inside. In the last box there was a collection of silk scarves, just the kind I’ve been looking for in the stores. Not the long ones so popular today but simply long enough to add a touch of color to my mostly black and white wardrobe. To think if it had gone into the truck!

I’ve given things to the dumpster area too. Like the big round plastic table with removable legs. In half an hour it was gone. It was something I didn’t need anymore and now it’s been salvaged. Now that I think of it almost everyone is in the salvage business. We’re all picking up the pieces of our lives and sometimes others,' rescuing them from destruction. Or we should be.

Remember when almost every neighborhood had a vacant lot where people would dump things? My brother, Danny, found an old broken baby carriage in one when he was a kid and used the wheels for a go-cart he’d built. My sister-in-law tells how, when she was about five or six, she came home one day all tousled and smudged with her arms full of junk. Her first words to her mom preempted a scolding. She said, with a broad smile, “Just look, Mommy, I found a nice clean dump!”

Working on Shakespeare got me to thinking. There’s something poignant and pathetic about the broken pieces of life. We’d like to salvage them, mend them, make them new again. Since we can’t turn back the clock and prevent their pain, we might be able to do that at least. Even if they seem beyond repair, our lives can be salvaged. Like unfired clay they can go back and be carved again.

Years ago when Wally and I lived near a Marine base, a friend of ours, a man whom we knew to be kind and gentle, who ministered to new recruits in the Marine Corps, told us he had lived a rugged life. He had lost one eye to show for it and had in its place a glass eye which made it hard to remember which eye to look at as we conversed. He told us how he’d been digging in his back yard garden that day.

“I still live in the house I grew up in,” he said, “and when my shovel hit something hard I reached down to pick it up and when I rubbed the dirt away what should I find but a little white ceramic lamb that I had treasured and lost in my childhood. I took it in to the kitchen sink and washed it off." At this point his one good eye misted up but he went on. "I saw that it was without blemish of any kind, just as pure and white as it was back then.” He didn’t need to spell out the rest. We knew he had found redemption. He’d salvaged his life and was helping others to salvage theirs.

I’m thinking today that all our lives are in the process of either being broken or salvaged. Probably both in any given day. Somehow we are not permitted to linger in between the two. We’re either going up or down, forward or backward. Salvaging and salvation are not just God’s business, we must at some time see them as our business too and be engaged. Nobody can say it’s easy, but the joy of finding ourselves as pure as that little white lamb is our reward if we persevere. 

I see us all as children rummaging through “a nice clean dump,” hoping to find treasures and then going home to take a bath and finding that we are the treasure we’re looking for. It’s a messy business, but one we need to do until our dump is really cleaned up. So, I’ll see you there today or tomorrow and then we’ll go have a cup of tea and share our stories. When I'm finished with Shakespeare I'll bring him too. He'd like that.

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