It's Broken: In Rebuilding We Find Strength

Written By Bob Hunt

Editor’s note: On May 9, ELLICSR hosted For Me With Me: A Forum for People Affected by Cancer. We invited people who’ve been impacted by cancer to come share their experience, learn from others what helped them, and work with us to begin to revolutionize the cancer experience. Late in the morning, we broke into smaller groups to share experiences and build a toolkit to help others. ELLICSR bloggers sat in on each session. Here’s what they experienced.

I had the privilege of facilitating the breakout session “Finding Strength.”

Wonderfully, six people who arrived as a disperse group of individuals left as a cohesive supportive group. They shared some of the most important stories of their lives and in that process both received and provided care for each other.

Image of a group of people reassembling a broken pot
Participants work together to reassemble the broken pot

A ceramic pot that had been broken into pieces was waiting for us on the table. I invited the participants to take a marker and write a word (or a few words) that described the most difficult part of her or his cancer journey on the inside of a piece of the broken pot. As they wrote, almost everyone recounted changes or crucial conversations that had taken place as a result of their diagnosis. As one spoke the others nodded and verbally affirmed the feelings of the other. They heard someone else speak out loud emotions that they had felt and, I suspect in some instances, had never, or rarely, felt safe to express. They experienced a taste of what it is like to have people who are both For Me and With Me.

Next they took that same piece of pottery, turned it over, and wrote what gave them the strength to move forward – things like deeper relationships with family members, meditation, music and laughter at some of the absurdities of life. More sharing ensued.

Finally, I invited them to glue the pot back together. This brought the group to a different level. No one person could put the pot back together. The pieces could only be reassembled with helping hands.

The broken pot became a metaphor of an anticipated life that was broken. As one of the participants noted, he came to the realization that his life wasn’t going to go back to being exactly as it had been and his life would go on.

I have facilitated this workshop a number of times before, but this was the first time the group decided to leave some pieces out of the pot. Days later I came to see the wisdom in their decision. The impulse to imagine a new, anticipated future thrusts us back into the hamster-wheel style of living. Even when something isn’t working for us, there is a tendency to move back to the familiar. The choice to pause and not rush to rebuild the same kind of lifestyle provides time to imagine a different way of being in the world. Yes, different is unfamiliar. Different holds new and potentially more satisfying ways to live and thrive. The old anticipated life gives way to a new life and that movement (birthing) can bring tears of sadness and often tears of joy.

I shared with them an article about kintsukuroi. Kintsukuroi is the process of taking broken pottery and reassembling it with gold or silver lacquer. The result is something more beautiful and precious than the original. The elements of gold and silver remind me of some of the elements of human strength that we experienced in the workshop: 

  • Courage to speak about the reality of hard things.
  • Openness to hearing and receiving the support of others.

These elements can propel a group, a family, a whole community to overcome isolation and find strength knowing there are people who are For Me and With Me.