Good Bones

A writing friend and clergy colleague gifted me with a poem this week. Perhaps you’ve heard it before. It’s by Maggie Smith and it reads:

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

I’ve read it maybe a dozen times in the last 24 hours, and placed it in every context of my life as truth.

I remembered standing, well over a year ago, in the front room of what would become Curly Girl’s and my home, the place filthy and neglected, my eyes taking it all in and my heart feeling this strange patter of “This is it,” and my realtor, who has known me for years, watching me, and saying, “You see something, don’t you, Julie?”

I remembered CG and I yelling at each other one recent, stressful evening, the way headstrong mothers and daughters sometimes do, both of us just out of sorts and irritated at the whole world. “I didn’t know I could talk to you like that,” she said, mollified, as I sat there, stunned at at the truth that she really is no longer a baby and we are so much more alike than anyone realizes. “It’s okay,” I said, “It will probably happen again. And it will be okay, and we will always get through it. Because I love you, no matter what.” And we both cried. And then laughed–loudly–at ourselves.

I remembered words I wish I hadn’t said. Situations I wish I’d handled differently. Relationships I have lost and ones I have found and how quickly life can change and how different it can feel after trauma or loss. I remembered how much I get wrong in this life.

I remembered my fears for this world we live in and what’s going to become of us, especially in these United States, if we keep up this insistence on political and idealogical hatred and division. And I remembered everything I love about being an American.

I remembered everything I fear for my daughter–because this whole world, this whole life, can be a real shithole, and I am very guilty of selling her a framework of beauty and hope, even as she has known the truth that sometimes the beauty and hope get dashed against the realities of heartache and betrayal.

Damn if I don’t believe Smith’s words with all I’ve got. That this life, this world, this journey we’re on–it’s got good bones. Just like our sweet little Cape Cod with it’s oddities and quirks and chipped hardwood floors. Just like the relationships that have held. Just like a mother and daughter who might rail against each other but who also have an unbreakable bond born of a love that cannot ever be destroyed. Just like our country–where so much good has happened right alongside so much evil.

For every moment of mercy there is one, it seems, of destruction. I know this–I see it every day. And yet, I believe the mercy will win.

Because we have good bones. 

I still believe that love is worth risking. That new beginnings are possible. That we can love each other better. That we can be who God intended us to be. That all is not lost.

Because we have good bones.

I know–there’s all sorts of evidence to the contrary. So much is wrong. But I want to sell us all the world, invest in it deeply, so that we are determined to protect our investment and make it beautiful.

Wherever you’ve got good bones–in your family, your relationships, your homes, your communities, your workplaces–honor them. Cling to them. Trust that there is a foundation around you that will not fall. That you are held in the grip of something bigger than you. And that in this is the strength you need to do the beautiful-making.

It’s possible to make this place beautiful. 



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