Without the Wreck

I came to explore the wreck.

The words are purposes.

The words are maps.

I came to see the damage that was done

and the treasures that prevail.

            -Adrienne Rich, “Diving Into the Wreck”



It was difficult for my students to see the extended metaphor in Adrienne Rich’s poem, Diving Into the Wreck.  (Read the full poem here.) 

But then I saw the proverbial light bulb over one seventh grader’s head.  She realized that Rich might not really be talking about exploring a sunken ship, but in fact her own soul.  Gretel* understood that the human character is just as complicated, just as damaged, and just as wondrous as something that’s been lying at the bottom of the ocean, perhaps following a storm or a cannon battle or an act of sabotage.

“Without the wreck,” Gretel tentatively proclaimed, “You wouldn’t be able to see the beauty!”

I’m the first one to admit that my students regularly raise goosebumps on my arms with their insights, but this is one of the few moments when it was hard to fight back the tears along with the chills. 

…we are the half-destroyed instruments

that once held to a course…

Regret is a tricky thing.  If we don’t make mistakes, we don’t learn.  Without the stumbling and the slip-ups, we’re simple, uncomplicated people.  We’re less interesting and more tentative, like a team going into the playoffs with an undefeated record.  (There’s so much to lose when you’re perfect!)  Allison and I often play a game in which we joke about what we’d do to erase certain missteps from our lives.  You know, “Would you let a dozen cockroaches crawl all over you for 60 seconds in order to remove that lower back tattoo?”  That kind of thing.  (No, I don’t have a lower back tattoo.  But I do know a girl…)

Anyway, the point is, it’s a hard game for me to play.  Because even though I’ve made some huge errors in judgment, and I do have regrets, those mistakes add to the tapestry of my life.  They’re part of my story.  And when I look back, I want to see them as beautiful patches on a huge, intricate, multi-textured quilt. 

Now I’m just mixing metaphors, so I’m going to stop.

Bottom line:  Gretel is right.  If you didn’t have those glorious errors and terrifying blunders, you’d be a completely one-dimensional person.  And you wouldn’t know yourself or your capabilities.  If you didn’t have the hard times – the battles and the horrific sinking that follows – you wouldn’t appreciate the victories and the triumphs.  You would skate by on a cloud of safety and denial, under-appreciating the splendor and the brilliance all around.

…We are, I am, you are

by cowardice or courage

the one who find our way

back to this scene…

I’ve had a stormy year, and I’m not going to kid myself; it’s been hard.  I mean, devastatingly, outrageously challenging.  Sometimes it still is.  But it’s left me feeling stronger and more fearless than I ever could have anticipated.  I’m diving into the wreck, learning more about myself every day.  I’m reveling in the good days and the joy in my life…because there are so many good days and there’s so much love.  Far more than before the mess; before the destruction.  Every morning I wake up excited for the day, looking forward to seeing or talking to someone.  And what’s more, I’m lucky enough to recognize that.  I’m not taking it for granted for a second.  I’m thankful to be mining the hidden, uglier parts of myself.  And I know that if it hadn’t been for the storms – for the wreck – I wouldn’t be able to find them at all. 

…the thing I came for:

the wreck and not the story of the wreck

the thing itself and not the myth…