How The Light Gets In

I’ve been thinking lately about mementos—those things we collect to set around our house as a way to remind ourselves of our deepest values when we get too busy to remember them on our own—and how often we forget to look at them!

Recently, the host of one of our sangha’s monthly potlucks asked each of us to bring a memento from home and to share our stories about them. I didn’t think too much about it, but that evening, as we sat around in a circle and started to share, I slowly became amazed at what we were doing: each of us was allowing the others to peek beneath the thick dark blanket we often place over our hearts, and witness what we hold most dear. I learned so much about my dharma brothers and sisters that night, and felt a much deeper connection with them.

To be honest, I'm not even sure what my memento is, exactly. It’s heavy enough to hold down a small stack of papers, yet small enough to hold in my hand. It’s round like a wheel, and rusty, with a little knob at the top. Inside, enclosed by the rusty “wheel,” is some broken glass, smoothed now by the weather, and sparkling light blue at its center.

I found it one fall many years ago in a small parking lot at the top of a mountain my husband and I were planning to hike. That day, a week day, I was purposefully taking some time off to take care of myself because, for whatever reason, I’d been experiencing an old familiar feeling - that of being broken, damaged, and “unfixable” due to the abuse I suffered as a child.

And here, at the top of this sunny, autumn-topped mountain was this odd little object, which caught my eyes because it was sparkling so intensely in the sunshine. Almost immediately, it reminded me of some lyrics by Leonard Cohen that I think about often:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Today, I use this “broken thing” as a paper weight, and it reminds me every day not only to practice being incredibly kind to myself, but that something broken and old can still be useful, and beautiful, and perhaps even more beautiful in its age and imperfection. It also reminds me of my own deep suffering, and how facing it, accepting it, and working with it has helped me to become more compassionate towards others, because I know what that pain can feel like.

In this vein, I’d like to ask you to consider: What are your mementos? Have you noticed them lately? Have you shared them with your friends?


  1. Thank you Shell, that is beautiful and insightful. I have a broken angel statue and I just could not get rid of it. It reminds me of being broken and how we are still valuable. Again thank you for putting it in words.

    Gail Dodd

  2. Shell, the cracks also serve to let the light OUT. What a beautiful post -- thank you. Joanne

  3. This is a beautiful reflection Shell. It is amazing to me how, when we get still, something "ordinary" can shine for us like a treasure because it is carrying a message back to us from our own heart.
    And, I love what you said Joey, about the cracks letting the light out too. Never thought of that- and now I won't forget it!