Like Pieces of Glass

“I’m tired, boss…I’m tired of people being ugly to each other. I’m tired of all the pain I feel and hear in the world, every day. There’s too much of it. It’s like pieces of glass in my head all the time. Can you understand?” 

That is the lament of John Coffey, played by the late Michael Clarke Duncan, in “The Green Mile.” Indeed, I can understand. I too am tired. I’m tired of endless suffering, the exhausting waves of hurt, and the unrelenting shards of glass produced by our fractured and fracturing world.

Recent days have more than made this point. The hollowness of our politics; the dearth of leadership across all spectrums of our society; the collapse of another Christian leader in public hypocrisy; the unabated deaths from Covid-19; grim employment numbers while large corporations only grow richer; a historic hurricane; communities in turmoil because of yet another police shooting of yet another black man.

“How long, O Lord?” cried the prophets of old, weary as they were in their own days. That is my cry as well, an appeal to my friends, neighbors, and countrymen more than to heaven: How long until we find the will, heart, and holy imagination to take on our collective daily pain and heal together? 

How long will we allow unjust systems to perpetuate? How long will we use faith as a veil to cover our racism, nationalism, and greed? How long will we remain spectators, watching as the worst elements of our society clash like gladiators in the arena, blind to the fact that hostilities will eventually spill into the stands? Is there a solution, an answer to this lament? Yes, but the answer involves a lot of the proverbial blood, sweat, and tears.

By example, my wife is an artist. She makes the most beautiful creations from broken things, particularly broken glass. All those shards, put on canvas and mixed with resin and paint, become seascapes, mermaids, blooming flowers, and whatever else springs from her creative mind. The more broken the glass the better, as brokenness creates more facets for light to reflect.

Such creation is not easy, though. When my wife returns each time from her studio, sweat has washed away her makeup; bloodstains cover her apron; she has wounds to her hands, and glass slivers in her fingertips. Yet, the only way to bring her art to completion, and the only way to produce something beautiful out of what is broken, is to put her hands on it; to touch, feel, sweat, bleed – and most important of all – to care.

Bryan Stevenson says, “You can’t know the important things from a distance. You have to get close.” And that, friends, is the answer. Only when we are willing to draw close to our pain, to the suffering we both share and have shaped, and put our hands on it to make something better and beautiful from it, will the lament be answered. Then, we will understand.