The other day I dropped a favorite platter and it shattered with a rather alarming, dramatic crash. The expletive that quickly followed was equally loud and dramatic. A minute later, a neighbor gently knocked at my door to see if I was OK (sound carries easily in my apartment building, especially with springtime-opened windows.) And I was OK, except for the embarrassment and sadness and frustration I was feeling. I had to wonder to myself: All this drama for a platter?
There is a famous Buddhist teaching about seeing a tea cup as already broken. Even though it currently could be intact and firmly in our hands, the truth is the cup we are holding is bound to break one day, or get lost, or even stop being a favorite. So that event, that breaking or losing, is inherent in the the cup and in our relationship to the cup. This is true, actually, of all things in life and the world, since nothing is permanent.
This feeling of impermanence can lead us in two opposite directions. One is attachment, obsession, fear: this is precious, I must cling to it and protect it. The other is carelessness and indifference: if it is already broken, already lost to me, then what's the use of caring?
So what to do? How to care about something on one hand and be completely free from attachment to it on the other? Tricky business but not without a solution, a third way of being: appreciation. Knowing that something is already broken can give rise to appreciating it here in the moment, just as it is.
And letting it shatter when it's time for that, too. When something has been deeply appreciated, it's ironically a little easier to let it go and feel all the things that shattering brings: sadness, regret, nostalgia, even more appreciation.
So in sweeping up my favorite broken platter, I allowed myself to start missing it, to remember how much I enjoyed it, how I used it to serve up polenta with ragu in the winter and big, scattered salads in the summer. I remembered the person who gave it to me and the many kitchens and dining tables it had graced. And then I carefully emptied the dust pan full of broken, jagged pieces in to a brown paper bag and carried it outside to the garbage bin. Thank you very much, favorite platter, and so long.
(Image: Flickr member pygment_shots licensed under Creative Commons)