Cracked Bowls, Empty Bowls


by Rosemary Leach

I have a friend Andrea.

She doesn’t take up a lot of space in the world.

Andrea has curly reddish hair, light blue eyes, freckles all over her body and a gentleness that is striking. She isn’t smooth or elegant. She isn’t a charmer.

She is quiet and leaves spaces in the conversation.

Whatever money Andrea has had she has spent it on things like pottery or books. When you go in her slanted bathroom she always has some surprising nice soap, with flowers in it maybe or smelling like maple.

There are always poetry books in the bathroom. Not for display but because she reads them. Andrea has lived simply, and maybe doesn’t ask for much. Or need much. I think her inner world might be sufficient.

I’ve seen Andrea a handful of times in twenty years. I’ve been sad about that. She might answer my emails, but maybe not.

I’ve told myself to get over it. The problem is that I pretty much want to eat her.

That might be scary for her.

Andrea isn’t on social media. She is a single mother to two kids. She works a grief counselor in a long-term rehabilitation centre. She works with nuns.

Andrea lives next door to her sister Bonnie who has the same freckles. There is a short stone path connecting their back doors to one another. I imagine them at kitchen tables with tea, surrounded by kids.


Last June, as exams were finishing, Andrea’s eldest daughter Abigail got into a car with a gaggle of 16 year olds and a sober driver.

They hit the gravel on the side of the road and then crashed into a retaining wall on someone’s front lawn.

Abi died on impact.

Last night as I was lying in bed I said to Jake for the hundredth time, how can anyone deal with that much pain? Let alone Andrea, who finds the spikiness of life already too much?

Jake threw an extra wool blanket on the bed and said “Well as Hobbes said, life is nasty, brutish and short.”.

Jake says this without feeling. He has said outright that he doesn’t want to think about Andrea.

He didn’t need to say this: Because thinking about maybe possibly considering the thought flattens him to the ground.

And he is right—what does it serve to imagine?

Yet I go there a lot.

Because I am grateful we’ve been okay.

Or because I’m more familiar with loss.

Or because part of living for me means exploring all ends of the spectrum.

I have a book called Everyday Sacred. In it the author talks a lot about bowls. Empty bowls that receive, inverted bowls that don’t.  Dirty bowls that contaminate, cracked bowls that are mended with silver. Author Sue Bender describes the Buddhist practice of walking the street with an empty bowl and being open to receiving any gifts. A clump of rice.

Bender describes her overflowing bowls and hunger to be enough that cannot be satisfied.

She also describes a mammogram that doesn’t go well. I don’t want this in my bowl.

I have nothing but a trickle of helpless warm words to offer Andrea. This is utterly irrelevant to her and streams past her. She doesn’t even know which way is up, and I am in a concentric ring too far away.

Andrea has a good man Paul who has changed his work schedule and sits beside her, holds her hand and scrapes her off the floor. Andrea has young strong, functional and supportive parents.

When Abi died a circle of women sat vigil in her garden for days and were available to go upstairs to her.

I find the bowl analogy helpful. Sometimes we have to take what is in our bowl, even when it is nasty and brutish.

And you say, well, I’ve got this bowl. That is what is here right now, scars and all.

More Rosemary Leach stories here:!blog/c121u