My friend John is practically the Buddha.
I think a lot of his happiness arises from the fact that he’s a seriously artistic guy with a shit-ton of talent, and he works hard at it and gets to earn his living from it.
He’s an ace builder–did a top-notch job on our kitchen renovation–but he also went to college for a degree in ceramics and became an ace potter. Sadly, though, ten years ago when his building business took off he quit throwing pots because between his business and his family life, something had to go.
So: my birthday was yesterday. We had friends over, including John and his wife and kids, and he gave me this beer/coffee mug he threw. I love it, especially how it’s obviously hand-made and therefore imperfect.
When I said that, he grinned and started telling me about how he celebrates imperfection in his work. The gist of it was that he deliberately introduces one flaw into anything he makes–sometimes a minor one, sometimes a major one–and he does this because he’s found these flaws are what speak to people most. Everyone feels flawed, so at a deep and essential level they recognize themselves in the flaws of the world around them.
Which means, really, that everything’s perfect because it all fits together so well.
I cracked a couple more beers for us and we sat there for a while longer. I told him I was glad he’d started throwing again, and he said he was getting so much demand for his pieces that he was considering scaling back on his renovation business. More power to him, man.
Then this morning I was drinking coffee from the mug and thinking about our conversation, and I suddenly remembered that what he’d been telling me was very much in the theme of my favorite poem.
So I’d now like to share that poem with you. I’m an imperfect guy, of course…very much so, and these words have always been a great comfort to me. I strongly encourage you to take a quiet moment and read through this and consider how it might relate to your own life.
The Pots Criticize the Potter
By Omar Khayyám (1048–1131)
From “Quatrains” (Rubaiyat)
AS, under cover of departing day,
Slunk hunger-stricken Ramadan away,
Once more within the Potter’s house alone
I stood, surrounded by the shapes of clay.
Shapes of all sorts and sizes, great and small,
That stood along the floor and by the wall;
And some loquacious vessels were, and some
Listened, perhaps, but never talked at all.
Said one among them: “Surely not in vain
My substance of the common earth was ta’en,
And to this figure molded to be broke,
Or trampled back to shapeless earth again!”
Then said a second: “Ne’er a peevish boy
Would break the bowl from which he drank in joy;
And He that with His hand the vessel made,
Will surely not in after-wrath destroy.”
After a momentary silence spake
Some vessel of a more ungainly make:
“They sneer at me for leaning all awry;
What! did the hand, then, of the Potter shake?”
Whereat some one of the loquacious lot—
I think a Sufi pipkin—waking hot:
“All this of Pot and Potter! Tell me, then,
Who is the Potter, pray, and who the Pot?”
“Why,” said another, “some there are who tell
Of One who threatens he will toss to hell
The luckless Pots he marr’d in making! Pish!
He’s a good fellow, and ’twill all be well!”