December 22, 2017

Beautifully Broken Things

This time last year, I was feeling light-headed. It wasn't the joy of the coming Christmas or the cheer I felt in my heart from celebrating our favorite traditions. It was from paint fumes. My husband had sequestered himself in our basement where he was working on a top secret Christmas gift project for me. 

All I knew was that it involved spray paint. And lots of it. The more he painted, the more the fumes wafted up through our home's 1950s vent system and filled the air. As touched as I was that he had thought to make me something, I was also more than a little frustrated. Spray paint was not the smell I wanted to be filling my Christmas home. 

I tried opening the windows but it created sort of a vacuum, sucking even more of the pungent paint smell into our house. I tried to keep my heart in the right place, but my dizziness combined with my frustration didn't make for a good mix. 

Then, when it was time to pack up our car and travel to my folks' house where we planned to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I realized this thing he had made, which had been wrapped carefully in black garbage bags, wasn't totally dried or cured. So we brought the paint fume smell with us and enjoyed it for 100 miles. 

Still without a clue as to what this created masterpiece might be, I thought about possible options. My husband is not very good at keeping secrets, but he didn't give me any hints even though I asked for them. At one point he showed whatever it was to my mom and she burst into I figured it had to be something meaningful. 

Meaningful doesn't even begin to cover it. 

On Christmas morning, my husband presented me with a heavy, rectangular wooden board. Carefully covered in layers of pale blue spray paint, this was the source of our dizzying fumes. 

In the center of the board was a heart. The heart had been created in a mosaic out of small ceramic tiles, carefully fitted together like a puzzle to fill in the shape. 

If you knew nothing of the backstory, this piece would stand on its own as a beautiful work of wall art or home decor. But that's not the entire story. 

When my great grandmother passed away, the item I wanted most from her home was a vase. This was not just any vase. It was large and bright orange and stood out against the otherwise muted tones of her un-fancy preacher's wife decorating aesthetic. 

Always being drawn to bright colors and bold decor, I loved it and it was the only thing I really wanted of hers (besides some of her cake decorating books and an old recipe box). I was thrilled to have the vase in my home. It reminded me of my great grandmother, a really special lady. 

In many ways the vase was a source of inspiration for me in decorating my first home with my husband. Built in the late 1950s, it has a certain mid-century modern flair. So with the vase as a starting point, I pulled together other elements featuring the same bold orange, plus other complementary hues. 

For the first year or so after moving in, the vase sat on a shelf in our living room. As I am wont to do, I was moving some furniture around and changing up some of the nick knacks on our mantel. I had the bright idea to put the vase on the mantel because it tied in nicely with a bright, colorful painting featuring the same shade of orange. 

As I was holding the vase and admiring the painting in its new location, the painting began to fall forward. It's like everything happened in slow motion. Without processing what I was doing, I let go of the vase to catch the painting. It crashed to the tile hearth below, shattering into many, many pieces. 

I couldn't believe this had happened. I felt so dumb for making such a clumsy mistake. Even though it was just a vase, an inanimate object, what it symbolized for me was so special and seeing it broken into shards was just too much. When my husband rushed into the room, he found me sobbing, more for the loss of my grandmother than the vase, but still so sad by the loss of this symbol. 

He told me to go to the kitchen and get a drink of water while he cleaned up the mess. I heard him picking up pieces of ceramic and putting them in a black garbage bag, but I couldn't watch and I certainly couldn't watch him dispose of it in our trashcan outside. 

What I didn't know was that he didn't dispose of it. He hid the bag of broken vase downstairs where I wouldn't find it. And then those pieces of orange ceramic became the tiles in the mosaic heart he worked so hard to create for me last Christmas. 

As soon as I saw it, I knew what he had done. I couldn't believe that he had come up with such a special idea and brought it to life in this very meaningful way. We were joking today that he'd have a hard time topping that gift this year. And of course I don't really want him to try. But thinking about the heart and how much it means to me, I realized I hadn't shared this story before and so I wanted to. 

Things break. Sometimes valuable things. Sometimes a thing we love so much....and maybe there is only one of it and it can't be replaced. And sometimes there's no fixing it. No putting it back together. 

But broken things can find a new purpose. A new meaning. They can get a new life. 

If given the choice to have the vase back in exchange for the mosaic heart my husband made, I would say no thanks. That he wanted to take something broken and turn it into something beautiful for me is a priceless part of our story. I wouldn't trade that for all the vases in all the world.