I was given a mug with elephants on for my 22nd birthday. Nothing special to look at really. Just a mug with elephants on. But special to me because of the friends who gifted it – the girls who had become just like my sisters. Later that year I moved down to London and I brought my elephant mug with me. It seemed like a grown up thing to do – part of the transition from student life to adulthood – a proper job, a proper desk with its own computer, and my own proper mug to drink tea from. And amidst the strangeness of a new city, a new office, a new way of life, the elephant mug was a point of orientation – a reminder of the friends who had bought it for me, who knew me and who would be there no matter what big city life threw my way.
A careless tea-making moment caused calamity – the elephant mug smashed to pieces. I knelt on the kitchen floor to gather the fragments but I didn’t throw them away. I made a throwaway comment to a colleague about my “loss” before heading out into the cold evening.
Arriving at work the next morning I noticed the elephant mug sitting on my desk – seemingly intact. On closer inspection I saw that the colleague to whom I made my throwaway remark (a man who has known war and famine and other horrors which I cannot contemplate) had painstakingly pieced the mug together with masking tape. As one not known for public displays of emotion it causes me no shame to admit that this brought a tear to my eye – that although insignificant in the grand scheme of life, someone had acknowledged something that was important to me, and tried to make amends. No longer fit for its original purpose I used it as a penholder for the remainder of my time there.
And I still have it 15 years later – this broken & repaired mug. I keep it as a reminder that sometimes life gets broken – the person once ever present but who is no longer there; the situation that seemingly never resolves; a dream never realised; the mistakes I walk into, eyes wide open. I keep it as a reminder that despite my best attempts to find a solution all by myself, it is often only with help that I can begin to contemplate putting the pieces back together. And that although things might never be the same again there can be a new plan, a fresh purpose and renewed hope.
In the midst of disorientation the Psalmist reminds us “If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there; if you’re kicked the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath. Disciples so often get into trouble; still, God is there every time.” (Psalm 38: 18-19 MSG)