The Beautiful and The Broken





“It’s not that,” said Magnus. “There are some people —

people the universe seems to have singled out for special destinies.

Special favors and special torments.

God knows we’re all drawn toward what’s beautiful and broken;

I have been, but some people cannot be fixed.

Or if they can be, it’s only by love and sacrifice so great it destroys the giver.”

– City of Lost Souls

 

Brokenness has a strange obsession with perfection. 

Reach for perfection – press your nose against the glass of the snow globe, gaze at the swirling softness within, lose yourself in dreams of a wonderland beneath eternal heavens. If you shut your eyes from the reality of your surroundings; if you turn away from the pain, the suffering, the misfortune; if you forget the oppressive weight and the brokenness, and fill your existence with dreams of splendor — then one day when you open your eyes you will find yourself before a new threshold. 

You are walking in the air. 

Below is the sleeping village, clusters of small cottages illuminated by the soft glow of internal lanterns. Overhead, you embrace never-ending skies with open arms and let the flakes rest upon your skin – their split-second lives stimulate you, envelop you, wrap you in utter perfection.

The burden of reality vanishes and, without pain, suffering, and misfortune to ground you, you are suddenly afloat and skating along swirling paths in the sky. You walk through snow without leaving footprints. You are the butterfly – simplified, weightless, beautiful, perfect – the organic frame reduced to its most basic elements. You have been baptized in holiness, purity white as snow. 

The snow falls silently and you close your eyes. Whiteness accumulates on your skin, the blanket thickens and wraps you in its perfect crystal network. When you open your eyes, you see only dazzling whiteness. You no longer feel your limbs. You no longer exist.

 

This is perfection. 

But your baptism is your burial. Too late you realize the snowy veil is a shroud and the white hills below are a vast graveyard. You are frozen into a perfect world where beauty is forever – but also where creation is forbidden, progress is impossible, and individuality is lost. 

Where is the threshold? 

 

Return me to my broken world where children cry and the rich squander their wealth on clothing for poodles while men collapse in deserts and the innocent perish on indifferent streets. 

Return me to a world where I see suffering, a cruel world where I can feel and experience and learn and grow. 

Give me back my brokenness. 

Give me back my imperfections. 

I am not a Ferrari. I am not a diamond. I am not a goddess.

 

 

Perfection is static, and I am in full progress” – Anais Nin. 

I need to feel – to laugh, to cry, to scream, to despair, to hope, to barely contain every tingling nerve inside of me that declares: I am alive

For a while now, I have been trapped in a snow globe. A snow globe of perpetual sunlight, a world of juicy yellow mangoes and rich avocados, looping radio broadcasts of “Sawa sawa” and late nights at Sundowner/Golemi/KBC/White Horse. 

I have what I want – I am living in the dream of my college years at Northwestern; I am working and living and pursuing meaning in Kigali, Rwanda.

 

But why do I feel like I cannot breathe? 

Why do I feel like I am waning away, vanishing into an oblivion that should be bliss? 

 

Four weeks ago, I left Kigali and embarked on an adventure to refresh my mind with new sights and experiences. 

It was November 29, 2011 when I boarded my first Ethiopian Airlines flight to Paris.

Today it is January 5, 2012, and I am on my final Ethiopian Airlines flight back to Kigali. 

9 cities, 3 continents, 12 flights, 4 train rides, 1 lost (and found) suitcase, 4 hotels, 3 home-stays, 6 languages, and 1 canceled flight later – I am returning to Kigali with an extra suitcase, a new wardrobe, a significantly lighter wallet, a significantly expanded waistline, and more sights and experiences than I could have ever hoped for. 

But in the midst of learning and stepping into the lives of other people and their worlds, I have rediscovered the threshold back into my own world. 

My travels revealed the true nature of the snow globe – its static perfection, its frozen ugliness, its unhappiness.

 

Now that I am back at the threshold, I realize that what I really want is an imperfect life – an unpredictable life, a life where disasters become unexpected blessings, where beauty can be found in the towering splendor of Burj Khalifa but also in the ruins of Rome, where happiness arises from the least expected of circumstances, where true love is messy, inconvenient, but – without a doubt – worthwhile. 

Let me spill hot chocolate and watch brown stains balloon across the white table cloth. Let me squirm and laugh uncontrollably in the massage chair of a department store. Let me skip past imperial guards with their stiff uniforms and guns. Let me live and I’ll let you do the staring and the talking and the judging and the rebuking. 

Just let me live. 

Over the next few days and weeks, I want to share with you the stories from my travels. God knows I haven’t even begun to process the bulk of my experiences, but perhaps if I take you with me through Paris, Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan, Dubai, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Beijing – you can live your own adventures through the lens of my words. 

Here’s to living a perfectly imperfect life of beautiful brokenness.