In the beginning of December the year I was thirteen, my
father declared bankruptcy. That was the year we all
made our Christmas presents. I remember waiting for
Christmas with more than the usual anticipation, anxious
to know if the muffler I had secretly knit for my father
would please him and how the bracelet I had designed and
made from copper wire would look on Mom. Despite the
stress in the household, on Christmas morning the
living room was much as always, the familiar decorations
out and the coffee table heaped with presents, only
wrapped this year in the sporting green section of the
newspaper and tied with last year's red ribbon.
Among them lay a small velvet box.
Even at thirteen, I knew that such a box was not likely to
contain something homemade. I looked at it with
suspicion. My father smiled. "It's for
you," he told me. "Open it."
Inside were a pair of twenty-four karat gold
earrings. They were exquisite. I stared at
them in silence, bewildered, feeling the weight of my
homeliness, my shyness, my hopeless difference from my
classmates who easily joked and flirted and laughed.
you going to try them on?" prompted my father, so I
took them into the bathroom, closed the door, and put them
on my ears. Cautiously I looked into the
mirror. My sallow, pimply face and lank hair, oily
before it even dried from a shower, looked much as
always. The earrings looked absurd.
Tearing them from my ears, I rushed back into the living
room and flung them on the floor. "How could
you do this?" I shrieked at my father.
"Why are you making fun of me? Take them
back. They look stupid. I'm too ugly to wear
them. How could you waste all this
money?" Then I burst into tears. My
father said nothing until I had cried myself out.
Then he passed me his clean, folded handkerchief.
"I know they don't look right now," he said
quietly. "I bought them because someday they
will suit you perfectly."
I am truly grateful to have survived my adolescence.
At some of its lowest moments, I would get out the box and
look at the earrings. My father had spent a hundred
dollars he did not have because he believed in the person
I was becoming. It was something to hold on to.
Behind my father's gift lay the kind of double vision
which is the mark of every healer. He could have
told me not to cry, that someday I would be a lovely
woman. But that would have belittled my pain and
invalidated my experience, the truth of the moment.
What he did was far more powerful. He acknowledged
my pain and its appropriateness while backing my
process. His belief that change would emerge,
naturally, in the course of things made all the
difference. Wholeness was just a matter of time.
"Human being" is more a verb than a noun.
Each of us is unfinished, a work in progress.
Perhaps it would be most accurate to add the word
"yet" to all our assessments of ourselves and
each other. Jon has not learned compassion. . .
yet. I have not developed courage. . . yet. It
changes everything. I have seen the "yet"
become real even at the very edge of life. If life
is process, all judgments are provisional. We can't
judge something until it is finished. No one has won
or lost until the race is over.
"Broken" may be only a stage in a process.
A bud is not a broken rose. Only lifeless things are
broken. Perhaps the unique process which is a human
being is never over. Even at death.
Remen has a unique perspective on healing rooted
in her background as a physician, a professor of
medicine, a therapist, and a long-term survivor of
chronic illness. In a deeply moving and
down-to-earth collection of true stories, this
prominent physician shows us life in all its power
and mystery and reminds us that the things we
cannot measure may be the things that ultimately
sustain and enrich our lives.