Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.
Glass can reveal you and other things in the world. Glass can challenge you.
Glass can cut you. Glass is a magical substance. Glass reflects things as truly as it distorts them.
Why, it’s a Looking-glass book, of course! And if I hold it up to a glass, the words will all go the right way again.
—Alice, Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll
Stained in small pieces, it can create images and stories that tell us how God lived and died, saints turning sunlight and suffering into colored mists of other-worldly atmosphere here on earth.
You could be known as the most beautiful women who ever crawled across cut glass to make a deal.
—Bob Dylan, “Sweetheart Like You”
Broken, glass becomes a metaphor for struggle laced with pain and suffering, love destroyed, the end of things that once were.
My whole life has crashed, won’t you pick the pieces up
’cause it feels just like I’m walking on broken glass
—Annie Lennox, “Walking on Broken Glass”
Yet broken glass is more than this. Sometimes, what is broken becomes better than it was before.
“Now it’s just like the other horses . . . ” says Laura in Tennesee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, when Jim knocks her glass unicorn to the floor, breaking its horn.
Breaking the glass at the conclusion of a Jewish wedding reminds of the fragility of human relationships, which need the greatest care. The broken glass is the world the couple came from, forever and irreparably changed by their union. New joy must live alongside the pain and suffering of the world.
Something fell from Nellie’s hand and knocked on the floor. She started, jumped up, and opened her eyes wide. One looking-glass she saw lying at her feet. The other was standing as before on the table.
—Anton Checkov, “The Looking-glass”
The mirror reveals only what it is shown, and what it means to the looker can be something different altogether. The looking-glass is only one more opportunity to warp the matter of the world into shapes that suit deception, plotting, and retellings of post-hoc truths that matter now more than the time to which they refer.
Looking through the bent backed tulips
To see how the other half lives
Looking through a glass onion
—John Lennon, “Glass Onion”
All that ends must be followed by something else. So it is with broken glass. The broken vase pictured at the opening of this essay was bought by a lover to whom I had sent roses after some transgression that I have long forgotten. She, too, is gone, though the vase remained with me after she left. It’s been filled by the flowers of other lovers who have come and gone, each one leaving a mark on my heart, life by a thousand cuts, as it were.
Then one day last year, my cat jumped up to the window sill in the middle of the night and the vase came crashing to the floor. The sound woke me and I went to look, shaking my head as I plodded back to bed, thinking that in the glint of that broken vase there was a story to be told. I will miss her.