The White Vase: A Love Letter
By Kimberly Phinney
It was a slender, white vase that held exactly two daisies from a department store I’ve long forgotten. And for the past year, it has taken up a small footprint on the vanity I do not use but like to look at. It has added a feminine touch to my heaps of books and haphazard compositions that collect next to it, and I must say that it has done a good job of making me appear a bit more refined, a bit more like a grownup.
So I really liked my slender, white vase.
But this morning, in a frenzy to get out the door to an important event, I fumbled and broke that vase—good and hard. And like any vase that’s worth its salt, it shattered into a million pieces on the unforgiving tile.
I stood there stunned for a moment, visibly upset over the watershed. Why, of all days, did I have to knock this dear, white vase over now?
There wasn’t something quite right about the timing, and it made me feel superstitious—like something was about to happen, or like the vase was trying to tell me something about what was about to happen.
The shattering unnerved me, and not in the more obvious ways we are unnerved when something breaks. I mean the breaking up part terrified me. It got under my skin and made me take stock of the mess. There was something unsettling about the scattered fragments that once existed as one piece. There was something about the vase’s loss of utility and its inherent fragility. And there was something sad about the now irrecoverable beauty of oneness I would never see again.
The shattering felt like a heavy gravity in my bones, as I used my dense hands to lift the myriad shards into my cupped palm.
I thought, Yes, the pieces can be gathered together again, but they’ll never quite be the same. I think that thought is what wrecked me most, as I dropped the pallid remains into the wastebasket like a mourner spreading petals on a grave.
Such a tragedy, I thought…
But then the cynic in me had her morning coffee and was awake enough to mock me for waxing poetic about a silly vase. “Really, Kimberly?” she derided. A eulogy for a broken vase? Come on!
Embarrassed by myself, I threw my feelings to the back room of my mind, showered, slapped make-up on my face, and rushed out the door.
I was now the teacher, and I was going to graduation to watch some of the most precocious, interesting, talented, and kind people I know walk across a stage that I, too, would never see again. And I knew in my gut, as I drove to the heralded celebration known as commencement, that they weren’t just walking across a stage. They were walking the first leg of their journey, and they would keep on walking to places so foreign and unknown and beautiful that they would never, ever be able to return.
They were about to scatter.
And THEN my trepidation over that fine, white vase that rested in pieces on the bottom of my wastebasket at home made a hell of a lot of sense.
These people are my people. They are my life’s work, my students, my friends. Some professionals point to a house they’ve built or a patient they’ve saved or a legal case they’ve won, but I point to my students. They are my body of work. I’ve spent four years, day in and day out, with THESE people. We’ve laughed and cried and screwed up. And then we’ve forgiven each other for crying and screwing up. And we’ve grown. And THAT is a miracle. I mean a REAL miracle.
And they are about to scatter. And that sort of shatters me a little.
They are not going back to that brick and mortar bandstand known as high school. I’m not going back there either, as I, too, start walking to places that are so foreign and unknown and beautiful that I will never, ever be able to return to this very space in time we are filling up.
They are graduating, as my students—off to the North or the South, packing for college or for whatever it is that life has in store for them. I am graduating, too, as their teacher—off to grad school in a few short weeks and a new career path toward becoming a novelist and professor.
Indeed, WE are scattering.
And as I write this, I am trying, still, to fully understand the bittersweet metaphor of the white vase that rested in pieces on my bedroom floor. Initially, I thought that WE were the vase, my students and me. But this shattering feeling that pulls at my seams feels more like I am the broken vase, alone. It feels like those shards I gathered up this morning were pieces of me.
But then again, maybe they are pieces of them, my students. And although WE will never be a single functioning entity again, perhaps I can always carry them with me.
Perhaps the pieces are enough… and they always will be.
Perhaps, in life, it’s really only pieces we ever have. Pieces of memories we get to keep. Pieces of love we get to feel. Pieces of people we get to journey with, if only for a moment. But you know what? With enough pieces, we can stitch together a life that comes up from the brokenness, and it is a beautiful, authentic life all the same.
I’m just blessed and feeling really good that I got to shatter over these kids during these eight years at my first teaching job ever.
I’m glad I got to watch them scatter as I hold onto some of the pieces.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Photography property of www.PhinneyPhotography.com.