Thursday, September 20, 2018

Broken Jars

This morning while I was on the kitchen floor on my hands and knees (for the third time since last night (I should mention that Andrew also swept the floor last night (twice; on his birthday!)) picking up stray shards of glass with a wet paper towel, Andrew's sister was loaded into a transport van and transferred to the state prison.

She's been on our minds (and in the news) a lot lately, and so my mind started playing with a story that I'll call The Parable of the Broken Jar.


When the jar fell off the counter it didn't break into a few neat pieces. It shattered. Glass flew all over the kitchen—under the table, under the couch, over by the sink and oven, into the laundry room. 

"What happened?!" he asked, rushing down the stairs to see what was the matter.

"A jar fell off the counter," she said, leaving broken bits of glass strewn across the kitchen. "Let's just forget about it and move on, okay?"

"Forget about it?" he husband balked. "There is glass all over the floor. Someone is going to get hurt. Here; I'll help you."

He grabbed the broom and handed her the dustpan. 

"I don't really want to clean it up," she protested. "I'm more than just a jar-breaker, you know!"

Of course he knew this so he soothed her frazzled nerves and coaxed her into helping clean up the mess. She still wasn't happy about it, but since all the tools for the job had been handed to her she bent down and got to work alongside her husband. After sweeping the floor he left her to pick up the piles of glass (after all, it had been her mess). She took care of a few piles but grew tired of the task and so finished up quickly without taking care to do a good job.

A few days later she walked into the kitchen to find him poking at his foot.

"What's wrong?" she asked.

"Oh, nothing," he said. "I must have stepped on a piece of glass we missed the other day. I think I see a splinter of glass in my foot. But don't worry; I think I can get it out."

"Why is everything always my fault?" the woman shrieked. "I'm nothing but a jar-breaker to you anymore! Having these glass jars just sets me up for failure!"

And she went on a rampage, dropping glass jars left and right. Then she stormed off, leaving him to clean up the mess.

There's a bit of hyperbole in this story, but that's almost to be expected in a parable, isn't it?

But we really do feel like we're cleaning up the wreckage left in her wake. Granted, she didn't get away with breaking these jars, but there are so many loose ends that she expects the family to tidy up for her, but at the same time doesn't seem to realize all the legwork that goes on this side of her going to prison (she's angry at everybody, always).

She says that her jar-breaking defines her now, that she's "in the system as a criminal" and that's where "they" will keep her. She accused us all of sitting around and waiting for her to fail. To be fair, I suppose that's exactly what we were doing, but only because we had the foresight to see exactly where her trajectory was leading her. We challenged her to not let her mistakes define her.

Why? Why cling to the role of miscreant? Why—when it robs you of the role of wife, mother, sister, teacher, friend? I don't understand.

And why is she so angry at us for being hurt by the glass that she left behind?

For example, this is a poem I wrote after the last time we saw her (which was nearly a year ago). Andrew had been helping her move the last of her things out of our house. They collided on the stairs and she unleashed on him (she was constantly lashing out at someone when she lived here (usually Karen)). It's inspired, in part, by the show The Good Place, but mostly it's just inspired by Sarah:
Love at homeThe last words my sister said to me were:Fork off, you forking bench. Fork you!
Still, she’s probably wondering Why we didn’t invite herTo Christmas dinner.
I apologized* when I broke the jar. Then I apologized to Andrew for taking him away from his work (he was squirreled away in his office writing, writing, writing). Then I apologized to my in-laws for slowing down the canning process and wasting everyone's time. Then I apologized to myself for having to wash another jar. Then I apologized to my baby who squirmed and fussed in his high chair while I was scouring the floors for more glass. 

I did a whole lot of apologizing for the simple error of knocking a jar off kilter.

Perhaps it's because I'm Canadian (I'm sorry, okay?!) but I would certainly apologize some more (profusely) if anyone should find a stray shard of glass with their foot, because it would still by my fault...even if I had already apologized and made an honest effort to clean up my mess.

(Let's be honest, I would probably apologize even if I hadn't have been the one to break the jar in the first place because I could be sorry that they're feeling pain in the first place).

The point is, nobody lives their life in a vacuum (which is good news for everyone; otherwise they wouldn't be able to breathe!) so every action has the potential to effect other people (whether they were directly impacted by said actions or were simply unwary bystanders is irrelevant because the super fun thing about life is that we can't necessarily choose who gets hit by the shrapnel of our poor choices (or the rainbow sprinkles of our good choices)).

I know she's being punished (beyond my comprehension) for her actions and I hope to never experience what she's going to have to endure. That said, I hope she never has to endure what the rest of us are going through because sending a loved one off to prison is also somewhat terrible. I can't even imagine what her parents are going through.

Karen mentioned the other day that they've joined a new parenting club: Parents with Children in Prison.

It's one of those elite clubs that no one warns you about before you jump on this wild ride they call parenthood (because they're unthinkable things that no one ever wants to experience):

  • miscarriages and/or stillbirths
  • premature deliveries and extended NICU stays
  • having a chronically ill child (cancer, for example, or cystic fibrosis)
The list goes on and on. 

I think all new parents are somewhat nervous when they bring their sweet newborn home. I know we were (we charted poops and feeds for more than one child! (but perhaps that's not too surprising considering who I married)), but the longer I'm in this gig the more nervous I become. 

Are we doing this right?
Are we raising good humans?
Are we ruining them?
Are we hovering too much?
Do they have too much freedom?
Do they know we love them?
Will they ever be fully-functioning adults?
Why do they get the stomach flu so darn often?
Are any of them going to break our hearts?
What trials are we going to have to support them through?


Sarah reiterated time and again that prison doesn't do anyone any good, that it's programs, not prisons, that help people become better. I suppose that is true. But what if the programs don't work? What if someone is given a second chance (and a third chance) and they consistently fly in the face of everything they've been counseled to do? Then what?

It's a hard answer, but I suppose the answer is prison.

It's hard from Sarah's side and it's hard from our side.

All we can do now is hope that she can get the help she needs while she's incarcerated, we can hope that she will be able to let go of some of her anger and realize she's culpable for her decisions, that no one made her do the things she did.

Hopefully we'll have the time we need to center our emotions as well.

And then maybe one day we'll all sit down for Christmas dinner together.

* I believe that an apology is more than simply saying the words, "I'm sorry," though as a Canadian I'm awfully fond of that phrase. In fact, I believe that true apology is divorced from words altogether because I don't believe that an apology is a verbal thing. Rather, I think it's a demeanor. So if someone is behaving apologetically, it doesn't matter if the words, "I'm sorry" ever escape their lips. 

Several years ago, for whatever reason, Sarah wrote a list of things she hated about me and Andrew. She later apologized for that and now it's mostly just funny to me (so hopefully that means I've really forgiven her because forgiveness is also more a manner of feeling than it is words) because they were such ridiculous reasons to hate anyone. I hope if there were any serious reason on the list that I was able to improve. If not, the one reason that really sticks in my mind was that I didn't write about her enough on my blog and I suppose this was my opportunity to improve in that arena. Or perhaps writing this down simply proves that I never quite managed to forgive her for writing that list in the first place. 

In any case, I'm currently working on forgiving her (and looking at her in a compassionate light) for the way she's treating the family and I hope she knows (hello, future Sarah, if you're reading this) that we've all been grappling with some rather hurly-burly emotions because of this whole situation but that we're all hoping she finds her footing and comes out of this a better person because she is so talented, smart, determined, and good. That's part of the reason this entire affair is so unsettling. We've been rooting for you all along.

1 comment:

  1. Ah, Nancy. Hurly-burly emotions indeed. I love sweet Sarah. She can be a bit like that little girl who had a little curl in the middle of her forehead... quite a dichotomy she can be.

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