Two weeks ago was ArtTrails. It is an annual art event in Sonoma County that Guy and I make a pilgrimage trip for each year, and have never missed since we began going when Ethan was just a toddler. Some of the artists have watched out family grow up as we return year after year. This year we took Kathy and Wayne with us, dumping sundry children at various locations along our way for tending (thank you Krista and Joanna!), and headed for the rolling amber hills and sunset colored leaves of Sebastopol.
Our first stop has become an important one. Talented potters Cheryl and Mikio of Nichibei Pottery have created a tiny haven there, and we are welcomed with hugs and smiles. This year was no exception, as we toted little Natalie in to show off to Cheryl, who was just a little bit surprised at #6 and more than happy to love on her. I will admit, though, we come here first for more than the sweet greeting; Cheryl and Mikio set out a "seconds" table. But if you want to take advantage of the deals to be found there, you have to be an early bird. Wait even a few hours, and the table will be picked clean. We love their art, but as their work is so skillfully and beautifully made by two master potters, we cannot afford most of it at regular price.
We also planned on meeting our dear Francine there. She had plans for the rest of her day, but as we have done at other times when we knew a long visit was not in the stars for that day, we met, however briefly, for a few hugs and a quick visit at Nichibei.
Francine and I wandered over to the seconds table, arm in arm. We marveled at what made something a "second" here, as every single piece on the table was so much better than anything I could produce on my gloriously-best-pottery day. A tiny chip on the foot, a pock mark in the glaze, a glaze that simply had failed to accomplish what its makers had hoped it would, and it was banished from the lovely studio gallery, with golden lighting and music playing, and relegated to the tired wooden table out by the kiln. I spotted the pot I wanted right away, a tall green vase with a proper pot belly, a delicate foot below and a lovely beige rim...oh, and a flaw. On this pot, it was four or five bumps, right on the front, where some other piece must have shifted in the kiln and touched the surface, breaking the uniform mat glaze with unwelcome texture.
I picked it up and hugged it.
I was amazed that something so beautiful had the misfortune of such marring, and pondered on the frustration it must have been when Cheryl opened the kiln with hopes of lovely pots, only to find this one in such a disappointing state. I felt a pang of familiar disappointment in myself.
I had been feeling inadequate lately; broken, chipped, marred... flawed. I see my housekeeping, my body, my to-do list (which is really a "to-be-improved-upon" list), and feel ever so much like one of those empty vessels, not having lived up to my own hopes. I know there has been a lot in our lives the last 9 months that would certainly justify a lackluster performance on my part, but ever since the clots, and now losing Steph and Kristi (another friend who died suddenly the same day Steph did), I have felt an urgency to make major strides toward important goals, but falling short.
"I would be on God's 'seconds' table," I told Francine with a giggle to cover the little ache inside.
"Well, you'd have plenty of company!" Francine sang out with a sort of childlike laugh. And I knew she was right. Not a soul on the planet would be in the gallery under the glistening lights. We would all, every single one of us, be on the seconds table. I pictured a massive table top, a continent long, with millions of tiny people standing on it with little discount price tags on our heads.
And in an instant, there it was. Freedom.
Freedom to be flawed,
permission to try harder without being ashamed of past failures,
-lots and lots of company-
there on the tabletop.
"And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.
Then the Lord came to me, saying,
O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the Lord. Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel."
~Jeremiah 18: 4-6