Is it possible to be more beautiful in the broken places?
Recently, I sent a message to my friend who was struggling, in hopes of lifting her spirits.
My friend had been feeling down. Defeated. Convinced that she wasn’t capable or deserving of success. I knew better, of course. I’ve known her more than half my life. I’ve watched her rise from an aspiring writer to international best selling author. Countless reasons, I could offer, as to why she’s more than capable and perfectly deserving of success. With indignance, I wanted to shout at her, “You’re already successful! Do you know how many people would dream to live your life for even just one day?”
I had really good intentions that day. It was a thrill, in fact, to think that I could be of help to a hero. Here was little old regular me, being asked to Help…Fix…Repair…Heal…this amazing role model of mine, who happened to be struggling. Being able to nurture and support this person who has served as a model of excellence for me for decades. Here was my chance to make a difference!
And the way I chose to help this supersuccessful person to feel better? I denied her feelings. Not a good thing, turns out.
I countered every single negative thought she was having with a reason why she was wrong and “should feel great” or “ought to forgive” herself or “was being too hard” on herself.
Thinking I was helping, actually I was making it worse. I took away her right to suffer. In fact, I teetered on the cusp of shaming her for feeling down.
With all the best intentions, I missed the whole point. She was feeling broken and needed to let the pieces fall on the floor in front of her.
Realizing that I was making things worse by only focusing on the sunny side and by denying her need to feel broken and fall apart, I suddenly remembered a concept I once heard about the importance of being able to “fall into” pain rather than simply denying it. This concept, I was now remembering, was about honoring and highlighting the broken parts. Drawing attention to the damage, even!
So, what is this radical-acceptance-like process of honoring and even highlighting our failures and broken parts?
It’s called Kintsugi, and it’s a beautiful way of turning damage into beauty.
The Japanese practice of “kintsugi” is the art of embracing damage. Check out this Kintsugi video:
“Now you shall transform to a new level, my friend. Think wabi-sabi and kintsugi: the art of embracing damage!”
Now remembering this concept of being stronger in the broken places, I stopped my barrage of “happy thoughts” and apologized mid-conversation to my friend. I acknowledged that I’d been trying to deny the fact that she felt broken. I was trying to pretend the cracks weren’t there. I told her that I’d suddenly remembered this Japanese art of Kintsugi, and that I would send her a video to illustrate the concept right away. We ended the conversation awkardly, and I seriously questioned whether I knew how to be a good friend.
Pushing past my disappointment in myself, I sent her the Kintsugi video, hoping that she was still open to my support, even after I’d botched and Pollyanna’d my way through our earlier conversation. After I sent the note and video link, I started to question myself.
“Who am I to tell this highly successful and internationally recognized thought leader how to live?”
“Why do I always appoint myself as the ambassador of all that is positive?”
“What if she resents my message and sees it as patronizing?”
There I was, spiraling to all my places in my head where my own brokenness lurks.
Worrying about how my friend might feel after I’d missed the point with her suffering, I was spinning in my own broken parts, thinking…
I’ve spent my whole life embracing the broken, the not quite, and the almost…
- Saving birds with broken wings
- Fixing toys with broken parts
- Cheering for the underdog
- Coaching those who don’t yet believe in themselves
- Coaxing sunshine from clouds
Just as my negative self-talk was reaching a fervent pitch in my head, the phone rang.
There was my friend, laugh-crying through the phone line, telling me how she finally felt understood. The video just spoke to her. Captured her. She told me how she felt connected to this concept of embracing damage. How she IS kintsugi. How this concept of mending the broken pieces with gold and proudly displaying them was exactly what she’d needed. It was a great moment, and not just because my friend was feeling better or because I’d been able to help her. It was a great moment because she and I were creating Kintsugi in real time. We were piecing back together a set of broken shards of a conversation and making the resulting product even better than when we’d started.
I knew on that day that I would never look at broken pottery in the same way again.
Now, whenever either of us faces a rough patch in life, or when things fall apart altogether, a single word helps us both begin to put the pieces back together and to anticipate an even more beautiful outcome than the original situation could have intended.
Embracing the damage. More beautiful in the broken places.
Ever feel like the world is falling apart at the hands of hate? Need a ray of hope? Want to make a difference, but not sure what to do? Try the HARMONY PHOTO CHALLENGE. Try these 3 simple steps to make the world a little bit better:
- Step 1: Take a photograph of people being good to each other
- Step 2: Post your photo to Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, or anywhere that could use some positivity
- Step 3: Tag your photo with #harmonyphotochallenge
Let’s build a huge pile of positivity!
Example: In this example you can see Holocaust survivors Dorothy Finger and Morris “Freschie” Freschman chatting about the power of forgiveness. #harmonyphotochallenge
Thank you for visiting!
Susan E. Hendrich
Courage and Resilience: Inspiration from a Holocaust survivor
Holocaust survivor Morris Freschman allowed me a freedom I have never before experienced, and he inspired me to design Courage and Resilience, a project that began as a poster commemorating Morris and all Holocaust survivors, liberators, and righteous gentiles.
“You cannot keep a grudge; you cannot have hate because it destroys people. You have to forgive people or it will destroy you.” – Morris Freschman, Holocaust Survivor
Anyone who’s shopped the New Castle Farmers Market in Delaware may recall Freschies Deli, where Morris Freschman sold delicious fresh food for many years. He warmly greeted his customers with a twinkle in his eye and an infectious smile. Behind those sparkling eyes, Morris carries the memories of losing most of his family to murder, and suffering four horrific years of his youth in the concentration camps of Blechhammer (a satellite camp of Auschwitz), Gross-Rosen, and Buchenwald. Underneath the sleeve of his crisply ironed shirt, the number 177060 is emblazoned on his arm, tattooing more than just his survival, but his courage and resilience in the face of unimaginable suffering.
Morris was born in Sarnov, Poland on May 3, 1929 to David and Ida Freschman. David and Ida, along with all but one of Morris’ eight siblings, would perish along with millions in the Holocaust. Somehow, through a series of miracles, Morris survived. But it wasn’t until 2004 that Morris was able to speak publicly about his Holocaust experience, when he was interviewed by documentary producer Steve Gonser. In April 2016, I had the honor of meeting Morris and five other Holocaust survivors at the home of my parents’ friends, Roger and Danna Levy, where more than 60 people gathered to hear the stories of survivors, liberators and righteous gentiles through an excerpted screening of the documentary “No Denying: Delawareans Bear Witness to the Holocaust,” by filmmaker by Steve Gonzer on behalf of the Halina Wind Preston Holocaust Education Center.
Once the film snippets concluded, and with hesitation and heavy sighs, Morris stood among the crowd and spoke of his own times of courage and resistance. He shared five miracles that kept him alive during the Holocaust:
- Miracle 1: The first miracle happened when Morris was ten years old and was forced along with his family to live in the Polish ghetto. Morris was working to smuggle food to his cousin’s store, and was hiding two packages of eggs in his shirt when a Gestapo policeman stopped him. When asked what he was carrying in his shirt, Morris replied “potatoes.” The policeman “smacked against my shirt and broke all the eggs.” A moment of terror. Morris bravely told the officer that if he would release him, Morris would have his cousin pay, but instead the officer took him to the police station. Morris knew that he would be executed on sight at the police station, as smuggling bore a death sentence. Just as they arrived at the station’s door, the Gestapo policeman kicked Morris hard and said he would come that night for the money, and released Morris.
- Miracle 2: At age 12, Morris was taken by cattle car to Blechhammer. One of the Jewish overseers recognized Morris’ face and spared him by moving him to the line of those destined for labor camp, rather than being immediately killed. “Every day, you saw death. Everywhere you turned,” he said. “As a skinny 12 year-old kid torn from my family, I spent the rest of my days praying to live another hour or day. All of my energy was spent looking behind my back and trying not to become obvious to the guards, who would not hesitate to shoot you or send you to the gas chambers.”
- Miracle 3: In June of 1944, Morris was an inmate working at a chemical plant. As allies bombed the plant Morris and 14 other boys tried to run to a bunker. The 14 other boys sneaked past the Germans who had at first forced them away, but Morris went into a sewer filled with human waste. Bombs killed all of the people in the bunker, but Morris survived.
- Miracle 4: Somehow, Morris avoided being killed at Buchenwald during his four months there, where 85,000 people were murdered. That’s nearly the entire population of the city Wilmington, Delaware. All murdered at a single concentration camp between January and April of 1945. “They couldn’t burn the bodies fast enough,” Morris remembered. An African American Unit of the United States Army liberated Buchenwald on April 12, 1945 – the same day that President Roosevelt died. “The first American I ever saw – and I will never forget it – he was a 6-foot-4 black man. The joy when we were liberated, you cannot imagine.” Morris had spoken English, German and Polish, so the American liberators asked him to join them as an interpreter. After all he’d been through, Morris gladly enlisted and served a year in a Medical Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) unit with the United State Army.
- “As for the other miracle? What are you ladies doing tonight?” Morris asked, and the room erupted with laughter.
How Morris Impacted Me
Amazingly, at 87 years old and with all he suffered among the worst of human atrocities, Morris carries his sparkly spirit to this day. “So, how does a person who has been through so much, have still so much to give?” I asked myself, sensing that it was time for me to change.
My prior exposure to World War II history was academic – focusing on the suffering and the numbers of the masses. Rarely did I connect to the individual lives of those impacted. I’d read Elie Wiesel’s “Night” several times in high school and college, but somehow maintained a scholarly distance from any emotional impact. I simply could not fathom that such things could happen to people – my people. Instead, I distanced myself from a part of my own being. My Jewishness.
This April, for the first time in my life, thanks to Morris, I decided to own a part of myself that until now I had hidden. That day of Holocaust remembrance opened a channel of courage for me.
As a child of a mixed religion marriage, I’d clung to my mother’s Christianity both out of familiarity, and because my father was not religious and rarely spoke of his Jewish heritage. When I asked, he always seemed sad and said that his family never spoke of being Jewish and that they actively tried to “fit in” within the Brooklyn community where they lived during World War II and beyond. I internalized shame and fear associated with my Jewish side. Stories of Jews being persecuted in the Bible, coupled with witnessing anti-Semitism in my early schooling, made me fearful of acknowledging my Jewish heritage. I recognized my avoidance as a form of cowardice, but rationalized it as being a product of the society in which I live.
Shame. Fear. Sadness. Disbelief. Anger…Emotions I was avoiding. Hearing Morris speak of these same emotions as part of his Holocaust experience, I connected the freedoms I enjoy today as an American citizen with the Courage and Resilience shown by Morris and so many others like him, who refused to be silenced even in the face of death. In that moment of insight and realizing how small my fears are compared to what Morris had suffered, I made a pledge to learn about and embrace my own family’s Jewish history. Writing this article is part of that pledge, however small or inconsequential it may seem.
I now have begun to research my Jewish heritage, thanks in part to Morris’ courage, and to the resilience of those who survived, those who liberated, and those who righteously stood up for Holocaust victims’ survival, dignity and honor.
I hope you enjoy this poster, and thank you for taking time to read my story.
Susan E. Hendrich
- Personal interview with Morris Freschman, April 3, 2016.
- Excerpts from the documentary, No Denying: Delawareans Bear Witness to the Holocaust, by filmmaker Steve Gonzer on behalf of the Halina Wind Preston Holocaust Education Center.
Cast light every day…
Everything can be taken from a man or woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. – Victor E. Frankl
the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress
an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change
Throughout my adult life, for various reasons, I have been told that I am resilient. But my story isn’t relevant today. Oh, believe me, I’d like for you to know all the joys and challenges, triumphs and struggles I’ve experienced. But when I’m practicing resilience, sometimes that means casting aside wounds, wonders, worries and woes in order to allow the simplicity of a message to shine through. So in the spirit of simplicity, all I will say right now about my discovery of the power of resilience is that I believe it is important to cast light, every day.
Cast your light
By shining our inner light outward toward the world, we brighten all that we see. So if you are reading this, it is because you were willing to let this light be cast upon you for a moment.
How will you cast your light? Post a comment here to share how you will demonstrate your resilience today.