Sometimes things just break. You can do your best to take care of them in the hope that they will last, or you can mistreat them with little regard for their long-term durability. It doesn’t matter: Sometimes things just break.
One summer when I was a boy, my family rescued several wild rabbit babies. The mother had abandoned them – or died – and my father found them while mowing. My mother, the nurse, helped us to take care of them. We got a box and lined it with a blanket and fresh-cut grass. We made sure they had water, and even fed them milk with an eyedropper. We might have used bad techniques, but it was the best we knew to do, and our intentions were good. We only wanted the best for those little helpless balls of fur. But all our effort and all our intentions were wasted. All of them died within a day.
I think about those little rabbits sometimes – just like I think about other things that have been broken over they years – and I wonder if I could have done something different to save them. We didn’t have the money to take the rabbits to a vet, and this was long before the internet with its YouTube videos for everything. So in the end I’d have to say there wasn’t much else we could have done. Those helpless baby rabbits were always going to die no matter what we did. We just had to wait a day to be convinced.
This is true with other things in life as well, of course. Cars, careers, romantic relationships, friendships, family members.
Sometimes you don’t even know they are breaking until they’re broken beyond repair. This happened to me with a girlfriend who one day wouldn’t talk to me. Just like that. Perhaps I missed something – I’m sure I did – but if I honestly missed it, how could I do anything about it, right? She just moved on, and she didn’t take me along with her. This has happened in my life with other friendly and romantic relationships as well. Ok, so perhaps I’m pretty clueless, but isn’t everyone sometimes?
And if you believe you did the best you could to keep things together, doesn’t that count for something? If you take care of the car, change the oil, get it serviced, and the block cracks because it was weak all along, you can’t blame yourself. That would be foolish and unproductive.
What if you’re at least partly to blame? There’s an old highschool friend of mine that I haven’t talked to in 20 years. We were inseparable in junior high and high school. We clung onto each other like drowning men in a storm, and it helped. I am a richer person for having known him. But after highschool I went to college and he pursued a trade instead. Our worlds quietly broke apart the summer after graduation, and that was that. I could have tried harder to maintain the friendship, but I didn’t. I just didn’t, and neither did he. He was swept down one fork of the river, and I careened down the other.
Stan, old buddy. If you ever read this, I hope you know you made me a better person. You were the best of friends; I couldn’t have asked for better.
I don’t like things to break. I don’t like endings. I’m not against change, in fact I’m a big fan of it, but the price you pay for change can leave scars that never fully heal. So instead of endings, I focus on beginnings. If something has to end, I look forward to what will begin next to take its place. I’m always amazed by the cool things life throws at me. It’s a video game with infinite levels, and you can choose where to go. Mostly.
We do what we have to do. We do what we’re supposed to do. Take the broken pieces – the thing that has died or ended – and try to craft something new out of it. The broken thing will never be the same as it was, nor should it be. But it might possibly end up being something as nice or nicer than what existed before. After all, isn’t stained glass made up of lots of little pieces of glass? Isn’t cement made from crushed stone?
And if, after all you have done, all you’ve tried to do, the broken thing remains broken, and you can’t make anything better out of it, you mourn. You mourn for the loss of the thing that will never be again, you cry for the hole in your heart.
And you remember.
Green grass, warm in the sunshine. Cardboard box before me filled with grass clippings. And in my hand a helpless baby rabbit, squirming and struggling. It’s a powerful memory I have, one where I could feel love for another creature without any judgments or personal conflicts. I did all I could to save them. I loved those rabbits for one beautiful day, and I will carry that with me always.