Yesterday I heard a monk speaking about an experience he had when he was the chef in a monastery. He'd begun to feel his age, wondered at his usefulness. He was all of 45 at the time. While working at meal-making in the orderly, peaceful kitchen he noticed the shelf of large, metal tea kettles. They'd been in service a long time. "They were ample, round, merry, and a bit banged-up but still they supplied their purpose faithfully. Dents and all. I realized one could apply thick amounts of wax into the dents and scratches, polish the kettles up, and make them look new. But then they couldn't be used, the wax would melt and what a mess. I realized at that moment that those kettles, with their dents and scratches, were sincere. They were real. And I with my wrinkles and imperfections - really though, imperfect compared to what? - am still fulfilling my purpose, growing, learning, and offering a service to my fellow human beings. Dents and wrinkles are real, sincere, they testify that something has been around awhile. I thought, 'If those merry kettles can keep at it, well, so can I.'"
I like that. For a couple of reasons. First, I like the idea that my wrinkles, gray hair, and scars are testimonies that I've been here awhile and have done things. I've smiled, and slept, and burned my hands while cooking. I fell off my bike, and broke a glass door with my elbow. My hair is graying, my hands have arthritis. But I am still useful, can still ride my bike, can offer my take on 54 years of walking this planet.
The second thing I'm drawn to in the monk's observation is the idea of sincerity, realness. When I think of tea kettles masked in wax and polish, unusable, I think of the things we do to ourselves that mask our sincerity, and often times render our experience, wisdom, and talent hidden and useless out of fear that we won't measure up should the real be revealed. Things we do to our bodies, our homes, the formation of attitudes that are not our own but absorbed from others, the aping of behavior in order to 'fit in', the things we insecurely keep to ourselves which, if offered to the world, could make a good difference.
It seems to me that we as a society are doing an incredible disservice to ourselves in our inability to embrace what is sincere.
Today, I have a fresh perspective on my dented, scratched pots and pans. Old friends, they are, and I shall never be ashamed to pull them out of the cupboard in front of guests while I prepare a special meal. And I shall never be ashamed of my laugh lines, my sleep crevices, my crooked fingers, and my gray hair. I am still merry and useful.
And so are you!