Imperfections

I work with old stained glass windows. Yes, the kind you see nowhere else but in churches. They all need mending, eventually. You have lead plague, sagging from the weight, and woodrot. Since I’m the trainee I get the dirty jobs like cleaning the glass pieces. Today I was handling these small sheets of bottle green, zero point six millimetre thin wafers of handmade glass from one such church window. As I was attacking the ancient putty with a razor I admired the beauty of the piece. Picking it up is like touching a butterflies wings. It is so delicate, weighs next to nothing, they make regular window sheets feel like ugly armour. They are made by blowing a bubble of glass into a cylinder and letting it cool. Then the cylinder is cut lengthwise and heated so it folds open. Never having seen this, I picture the butterfly opening its wings for the first time. Although, I’m sure it’s not that poetic in the workshop.

The biggest difference between regular glass and handmade glass, however, are the imperfections. This ultrathin wafer has all kinds of flaws all over, and in it. Holding it up against the light I can see bubbles of varying sizes, featherlike patterns and streaks at different angles. Some lines crisscross in soft curves, telling about the rolling process it went through to make it. Any regular window with these marks would be scrapped immediately. It is not entirely even either – often thicker in some places and always curved one way or the other. I can’t help admiring the random decorations as I work the glass. Whereas a clear glass panes foremost quality is not to be seen, these little pieces are each and every one a natural work of art, quietly asking for admiration. They just hang there in the window, unnoticed, until the light breaks just so and then their marvel is clear to see. Every one of the 300-something pieces are unique and irreplaceable as individuals. Isn’t it just like that for life in general too? The things I treasure most from my friends aren’t the skills they’ve learned at work. It is those things you wouldn’t know unless you truly knew them. Things that make just them unique and irreplaceable. My family are for me not primarily the roles they have in my life as mother, brother, wife. Not now that I am an adult, anyway. If they were perfect we wouldn’t have any inside jokes around the dinnertable to tie us together. And I know they know my weaknesses too, and somehow that makes us stronger. A strangers unexpected behaviour lingers in memory when everything else fades fast. The monotony of a predictable shopping round is made glorious when the cashier breaks her professional mask and confesses something personal, reminding me she is a person. A person with an opinion, experiences, grievances, hope, love even, and loves misunderstood twin hate. All things that don’t fit a standard mold. Chips, cracks and streaks that would make every person fit for the recycle bin if we were to fashion our society after an impossible standard.

These are the musings I make in my daily routine. The hands do their work diligently while my head spins off in another direction. Then the glass piece snaps in two with a sharp crack and I let out a litany unfit for consecrated windows.

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