In my last writing group, the monthly theme was courage. It was a day when courage, for me, felt absent. I was recovering from another bout of illness - a very frequent visitor in my guest house these days - and I felt vulnerable.
When the time came to write, my eyes went to the broken clock on my desk. And from there, a poem came about brokenness and the courage to delight in the full array of our human glory - our sorrows, shames and sincerity.
A dear teacher of mine, Stephen Jenkinson, who'd once trained as a stone carver, shared a story about the origin of the word sincere. It comes from the Latin sin "without" and cera "wax." We think of sincerity as genuineness or honesty, someone who doesn't hide who they are or their motives.
But the long story of the word, as Stephen calls it, comes from stone carving. There are many grades of marble. The most precious and valuable marble for carving is statuario marble, because of its capacity to show the subtlest carving details in her stone. The poor man's marble is travertine, and it has holes that prevent this subtle carving.
This is how Stephen describes travertine marble in his book Come of Age: "Many years ago, carvers figured out how to take bees wax and tint it with travertine dust and fill the holes so adroitly that from a distance, to an untrained eye, the marble looked whole and flawless."
Oh, to look flawless to the untrained eye! How often have we attempted that?
But if we're sin cera, we don't fill our holes with dust and mirage. We are without wax, and the holes, they show.
The clock on my desk needs new batteries
or has finally succumbed to every time it
was dropped. It's stuck in a soft tick, tick.
The second hand moves back and forth,
from four to five, like a gentle tide.
If clocks breaks so easily, what about tender
human flesh? What about the heart with its
four chambers, her soft red sheath of skin?
What about every wizened thing inside that
makes you recoil, and want to hide?
I'd like to write a line about being brave,
the time I faced my fears and came out shining,
holding a pearl of wisdom. But today courage
is seeing my broken clock. Would you call
it courage if I told you that I delight
in her creamy metal skin, the second hand
that stumbles at the four?
Would you call it courage if I told you
that despite everything in me that feels broken
I choose to delight in myself? What if
I told you that courage, like love,
doesn't have to be earned?