By Mark E. Smith
A friend of mine introduced me to the music of British musician, Marcus Foster, whose song, “I Was Broken,” is hauntingly beautiful. It’s about recovering from being “broken,” whatever that may mean to any one individual.
In the disability realm, the medical model defines us as physically “broken.” However, I’ve never seen that truly to be the case on an individual level. We know of people with extraordinarily physically severe disabilities living vastly successful lives – some far more successful than able-bodied counterparts. So, then, where does broken enter the lives of those with disabilities?
Interestingly, broken enters the lives of those with disabilities in the same way as it effects everyone else: Emotionally. See, broken isn’t an exterior condition; it’s an inner one.
If you think about our physical states as individuals, they’re so diverse and so easily compensated for – I simply use a wheelchair because I can’t walk – that it becomes all but impossible to define a physical condition as broken. Yet, where broken enters our lives – for everyone – is when we don’t feel worthy enough, when we don’t like who we are, when we feel like our lives aren’t heading where we’ve dreamt, when we feel haunted by the past, when we feel like we can’t meet others’ expectations, when we don’t feel deserving of others’ love, when we feel incomplete. These feelings – these excruciating emotional struggles – are when we’re truly broken.
I’m very fortunate to often find myself genuinely connecting with those around me, even in casual settings, and as one of my best friends warned an acquaintance as we were socializing, “Mark’s not exactly known for light conversations – they tend to go deep.” And, he’s right – because I know that there’s a common humanity among us, where no matter who we are, or where we’re from, we all share common experience – including having been broken. What’s poignant to me is that when I share with others our common struggles with identity, self-worth, longing, and so on – all of the emotions that cause us to be broken at points in our lives – it’s universally human.
Surely, when we’re broken, it’s telling us that something is wrong, that our lives aren’t heading in the directions we wish. Sometimes being broken is based initially on uncontrollable circumstances; other times, it’s based on our own actions and poor decisions; and, yet other times it’s based on a compounding of all of the above. But, regardless of the causes, here’s what’s striking about being broken: It’s the gateway toward moving our lives in the right directions, it’s the opportunity to realign the paths of our lives to what we wish and deserve. Objects can be shattered to the point of beyond repair; but, not so the human spirit – there’s always the ability to restore and rebuild it, often to greater capacities than previously known.
I know, moving through that gateway from being broken toward wholeness is the toughest challenge we’ll ever face in life. I’ve been broken, and collecting the shattered pieces, trying to figure out how to make myself whole again at points in my life has never been quick or easy – sometimes it’s been like trying to put together a 1,000 piece puzzle with not even a picture of it to help chart the task. And, while there’s no universal answer to rebuilding ourselves from being broken – for some, time heals all; for others, personal space helps regain perspective; and, for yet others, formal processes like counseling help – we know that honesty is the first step toward repairing what’s broken, where despite our fears, shame, and hurt, we must maintain gut-wrenching honesty with ourselves and everyone around us about what we’re going through. If we avoid the candor of being broken, we can’t address it. It’s like ignoring anything that’s broken – it can’t fix itself. However, in merely our admission of being broken, we begin healing. See, when we allow others in, to truly know us – broken, as we may be – we begin to liberate ourselves in that process.
And, what I’ve learned most about being broken is that it ultimately plays an empowering role in our lives: Being broken allows us to clearly see the individual pieces of our truest essence, ones that we can eventually put back together however needed in order to achieve our hopes and dreams – finding ourselves whole, fulfilled, and content in the end.