My great-grandmother shuffled in the front door of my parents’ house, pushing her walker in front of her.
“I was just sitting there, and it fell.”
We rushed outside to see what “it” was; it was a tree.
The tree lived on the edge, literally, of the yard. The last tree on the right-hand side looking down toward the road, the tree also lived on the edge quite figuratively. This particular tree seemed to enjoy being hit by lightning. I mean, I’m not sure it liked being hit by lightning, but it did it quite often and so, maybe it just got used to being struck by a white hot bolt from the sky.
Who knows. All we know is that on a windless, breezeless, absolutely still afternoon on the first of September, the tree fell over. Split in two. Fell to the ground. Gave up the ghost. Kaput.
Sometimes things break.
Our own tree broke last year, and I still feel the grief over losing our evening shade as we sit with our hands over our eyes in the late evening watching our sons throw footballs and ride bikes and tackle each other to the ground. My dad breaks a lot of glass, a combination between his big hands and his tendency to talk with them; things go flying or dropping, shattering on the porcelain tile of the kitchen floor. Pages fall out of beloved books, handed to me by a boy with a look on his face that crosses somewhere between “I didn’t do it” and “Oh my goodness, my previous, beloved book is broken; can you please fix it, Mommy?” Cheap toys break, their plastic pieces discarded unnoticed. Expensive toys break to the grumbles of parents who spent good money. Boxes that once shipped cheap or expensive toys to the house and were henceforth confiscated to become a robot or a video arcade or a fort break down, fall apart, disintegrate under the weight of childhood play. Holes get worn into the knees and bottoms of jeans, show up on the seams of beloved shirts.
Sometimes humans break, too.
Maybe just a little, like the time I took a line drive to the ankle on the pitcher’s mound and ended up with a minor stress fracture. We pull muscles and wrench our backs and get cricks in our necks. We need surgery to fix internal things gone awry. Sometimes we’re born with things that don’t work right: my kidney, my Amanda’s heart, my son’s ear. Sometimes we put a little wear and tear on our own bodies, daily use and lack of care adding up together.
And sometimes the weight of everything we’re expected to accomplish and do within a 24 hour period pushes us down, down, down until we break under the heaviness of it all. Sometimes bad news comes at the worst moment. Sometimes good news comes five minutes too late. Sometimes we put too much trust in other people or in the way things are supposed to work or in faith or in society or in humanity, compassion, love, the sheer act of living. Sometimes our hearts break because we can’t fix what’s wrong with the world. Sometimes our hearts break because we can’t fix what’s wrong with ourselves. Sometimes our hearts can’t be fixed, and we sit with our feet dangling, tear drops landing on our shoelaces, and we ask the unthinkable, the unanswerable, “What now?”
It is then, in the “what now,” that maybe—just maybe—we can find solace in the fact that all things break. We, as humans, are more than the discarded cheap plastic toys, the dilapidated cardboard robot, the glass shattered on the porcelain floor. We are real; we are flesh and blood, feeling and emotion, love and hate, touch and hold, beyond even Pinocchio and the Velveteen Rabbit. We are so real, we are so worth standing up, wiping the tear drop, and finding out the answer to the question.
What now, indeed.