I can hear the brittle jangle of shattering of glass in my mind as I listen. I flinch inside, imagining a cascade of broken shards beneath delicate feet. So poised and careful, she enunciates each word with precision; she creates a flawless collage with each utterance. I listen carefully, astutely following her voice, the tight perfection of her posture, and the underlying ravages of her pain. A petite woman, the toll of the last several months has whittled away at her already slight frame. When she walked into my office this evening, manicured and smiling, I could not help but notice the dramatic change since I had seen her just two weeks ago. Albeit stunning, she is now extremely thin and frail, as though a gust of the mid-August winds could, indeed, carry her off. Today, not even her perfectly applied make-up and well-tailored clothing can mask her suffering.
She cannot sip the tea I have made for her. Steam rises from the cup of fragrant brew. She pays it no mind; her focus is on the splintered vestiges of the life she has known. Cool and composed, she describes the devastation of her marriage as if recounting the weather report. She articulates the destruction and resulting pain with precision. I continue to listen, my gaze focused on the pain-filled depths of her deep brown eyes. It is clear that, right now, what this lovely woman of deep sensitivity and abundant heart needs most is my simple compassion. There are no other objective ears for her in this battle that has caused both family and friends to hide.
I have noticed before that it takes her a bit of time to warm to the safety of my office. She allows her guard to drop with studied care and slowly gives her emotions permission to rise. Meeting my gaze with renewed concentration, she searches the depth of my eyes. Cocking my head slightly, I hold myself up to her scrutiny, and she smiles her winsome smile. A study in elegance with a sweep of long blonde hair, plum-toned lips, arching cheekbones, and graceful jaw, I see that it could be easy to be deceived by her artful exterior. We have developed a bond of trust, and she has permitted me access to the despondent, burdened woman within. She has come to realize that I do not judge either woman. They are both easy to love. She begins to give sharp voice to her anger, and her words pelt the air like wintry hail. Her eyes squint momentarily—two slivers of dark almonds peering at me—to determine if her newfound fury is permissible. I offer the faintest of smiles and a gentle nod of my chin. She understands, dabs with a tissue at tears I cannot see, and continues to storm with fastidious focus.
As with so many of the women and men who come through my door, it is the end of a relationship, a marriage, a companionship, that has wrought destruction. It is heart-wrenching to again hear a tale of painful devastation, the breaking of trust, of faith, and hope. I hear–and I know–the carnage of dreams that are left bruised and lifeless on the living room floor. Sometimes, I have found, there is nothing to be done but honor the life and the death of the dreams, to allow the tale to be told. There are times when it is simply an end, when there is no breathing that particular dream back to life. Making space for the ending, for the grief, and for the letting go, that is the work to be done right now. Streams of silent tears have begun to flow. Her porcelain skin is stained with ribboned streaks of black mascara. Her white blouse is now spotted, yet she somehow retains her elegant poise. The slight jangle of her gold bangles breaks the silence as she reaches for fresh tissues. The moments of silence seem to have made way for a fresh stream of thoughts that have turned toward bitterness. She abandons her tissues, tossing them aside like giant, bothersome moths, and she rails anew. Each sentence is filled with unbridled hostility, and I listen carefully. She has not allowed this side of her pain to come forth before today. Her pain is intense, and it begins to flow through the room in churning waves. Childless, she is losing the stepson she had raised as if he were her own little boy. Not caring to battle over whatever wealth her soon-to-be-former husband has to offer, she has left their beautiful home. Living with a close female friend until she can “find her feet,” she has her dog, her clothing, and her car. She is not ready for more, she does not want for more. Right now, she wants to feel her pain. It is good that she wants to know and understand its depths.
Her voice has become raspy, and she clears her throat gently. Her rage seems spent for now. I take a sip of my now-cool tea. She notices, and she delicately lifts her cup to take a sip of her own. With painstaking precision, she notes, “I am starting to see that I imagined my life, as like a beautiful crystal glass of the finest quality. It was that glass that held everything important to me. My husband, my stepson, my work, my world. It was everything. I thought I had everything.” Lifting her jaw as though commanding an inner resource, she continues, “That glass is now shattered. It is in pieces on an icy marble floor. All I can do is sweep it up and begin again.” Pausing, she absently twists the strands of gold that loop about her swanlike neck. As though sharing the darkest of secrets, she leans forward and adds, “Yet I continue to step on the damned shards of glass. My soles of my feet are bloody, yet I must pretend they are not. I am so weary of it all.” I smile, and my heart reaches for hers. Quietly, and ever so carefully, I offer, “I am glad you feel safe here. Safe enough to let me know about the broken glass, the bloody feet, and the pain. It will get better. Don’t give up.”
She nods her head in momentary, silent agreement and sinks back into the corner of the couch’s embrace. With shoulders stooped—a sight strange to behold on this particular woman—her thick mane of hair falls to cover her shoulders. She shudders, and then the room is silent again. Reaching for the tissues, she dabs at her face absently. Pulling her black and gold bag to her side, she reaches for a compact to check herself in its small mirror. Laughing derisively at her reflection, she pulls out her lipstick. Unselfconsciously, she spends a few moments collecting herself. Within seconds, she is artfully restored. I smile in curious half-admiration at her ability to regain her inner and outer poise with such apparent ease. As if aware of my thoughts, she remarks, “It comes at such a price.” Again, our eyes meet, and she knows I understand.
She rises, drawing her too-thin form into dignified alignment. She detects the concern in my face and offers, “You needn’t worry about me. I’ll hold on just fine until our next appointment. Shards of glass and all.” Again, I smile at her astute and winsome ways. “Yes, do hold on. Have faith. We’ll get those broken shards swept up—every last bit of them. Before you know it, you’ll be on your way to creating something wonderful and new. Just give it a bit of time.” She shakes her head in gentle disagreement. I understand. At this moment, the possibilities of the future have not yet arrived. For her, it is too early for that. There is no space just yet for a glimmer of new hope and new dreams. I know that this time will come. Although she does not yet see that flicker of hope, I will hold that flame alive for her until she is ready to acknowledge it on her own.
She is gone, and my office is silent. As I move to douse the candle in my office, I ponder the image of fragments of glass. As if seeing it for the first time, my eyes alight on the stunning glass bowl filled with candy that sits upon my desk. An artist’s delight, its shades of opalescent purple and sapphire reflect the evening light. That bowl, such a draw for young and old hands alike, is crafted from none other than exquisite shards of broken glass.
I am happy she was my last client for the day. There is always much to consider following such sessions. I laugh into the warm, giving air of this incredible August evening. Rebuilding love and reinventing life. It is always such a work in progress. Faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is–quite possibly–the strength of the three combined.