Brokenness and the Act of Washing

Brokenness and the Act of Washing

I grew up in a family of co-addicts competing for the attention of a “Big I” paternal grandfather who was addicted to women, food, alcohol and work. At age six proudly I declared, “I want to be just like you when I grow up.” My grandmother (his wife) looked at me and said, “careful for what you wish.” I threw myself into research and experimentation for the next twenty years not already knowing all the details. I became lost in trying to become all that my grandfather was and wasn’t, but who was Kevin?

Strangely enough a similar track was started by my maternal step grandmother, “Mimi.” She started me on a journey to understand brokenness and forgiveness in my childhood. She married my mom’s dad. I found out years later – she had been married three times before my grandfather. Her first husband loved two things a bottle of whiskey and working, especially if he could do both. He died in a job related accident. The second man she married thought women were made to be submissive as a punching bag. When he would come home drunk without a pay check, he didn’t want any lip. The third man thought marriage should be open for him and that she should be happy with leftovers. She didn’t want any more of that. She consigned herself to stay away from men. My granddad was a Quaker, non drinker, pacifist and recent widower. He started visiting with her every lunch hour five days a week for a long time.

When I was three years old – Mimi let me help make no bake cookies. When we talked, she would look me in the eyes. What I liked best was when she would take us children on an adventure by the neighborhoods and find bits of broken glass – windows, beer and whiskey bottles, tail lights, head lamps, cups and dishes and much more. She would use an apron with pockets and make comments about what was broken and how it might have it happened. Then she would place these items in her pockets. She was always asked, “What are you going to do with that stuff.” She would tell all concerned, “Later, I’ll show you later.”

Our lives are complete of pain caused by brokenness. We all suffer from brokenness in our lives – broken moments, broken dreams, broken hearts, broken relationships, and things. Feelings related to grief can have us experiencing a spectrum of fear and anger. Brokenness weighs us down and easily ties us into our addictions or leads us back into them. In our addictions, self-will cuts all the corners and always brings us back to where we’ve always been. The breaking continues. The brokenness multiplies as long as we continue to use or stay in our stinking thinking. What do we do with that broken stuff?

However, there is a fourth part to the fourth step. The first part looks at our perceptions of self, family, friends and meaningful others. Part two asked us to consider how we use character defects in our addiction. Part three invites us to name the worst things done to or by us – lying, stealing, abusing, displacing the higher strength, lusting, losing gratitude for life and sexual misconduct or indiscretion. The fourth part is sometimes the hardest one, as many of us know more about what we do wrong than what was done right. We let in to being thankful, name the three best things and count 15 character strengths. It is an invitation to a “searching and fearless” moral inventory.

Mimi would come back to her house with her pockets complete of dirty broken colored glass followed by an entourage of grand children. complete of excitement, we rushed close to see would happen next. She went to her sink in the kitchen, turned on the water and began taking the broken glass out of her pocket. She washed each piece with soap. Then she reached into the cupboard under the sink and pulled out a honey jar. She put water in the jar and put the broken glass in a piece at time. It layered in place. As she worked, she reminded us of the broken sharp edges.

The intentional naming of the “exact character of our wrongs” is a washing off. It isn’t about hiding it away, forgetting or pretending it ever happened. It is washing each piece in front of one other person. What is our intention? Are we willing to ask for forgiveness? Those are the questions involved in steps 6 and 7. For Mimi it was about working all the way by steps 8-9 so that the light of forgiveness could shine by the glass and throw a rainbow of light around her kitchen when she placed it in her window.

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