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BY MOLLY MILTENBERGER MURRAY
Ring the bells that still can ring
forget your perfect offering
there is a crack in everything
that's how the light gets in.
I found this poem through a quote on Facebook: it rang through the homepage and became one of those definitive moments. Total Facebook score. Every line resonates with my life. It’s an image that I carry with me through the seasons.
Fast-forward a few years. I find out that my perfect verse is from a song by Leonard Cohen called “Anthem” – which is not a problem, except that I really don’t like the song. It’s complete elevator groove. The rest of the lyrics lose me.
It’s tempting to forget the one redemptive verse. But the irony of the situation pulled me back to it.
I read a bit more about Cohen. When he was talking about this song in an interview, he said that “We’ve forgotten the central myth of our culture which is the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. This situation does not admit a solution of perfection. This is not the place where you make things perfect, neither in your marriage, nor in your work, nor anything, nor in your love of God, nor your love of family or country. The thing is imperfect. And worse, there is a crack in everything that you can put together, physical objects, mental objects, constructions of any kind. But that's where the light gets in, and that's where the resurrection is and that's where the return, that's where the repentance is. It is with the confrontation, with the brokenness of things.”
Cohen is saying not to be afraid to dig in where it hurts. I have heard so many successful writers give suggestions to writing students, but none of them say that.
His advice is essential to healing in life. We are sinful: we need a Savior to redeem us. His advice is essential to art. Your best work can come from the haunting, painful moments that cripple your life, the ones you want to forget. Your best work could hide in the middle of something that just isn’t that great. That’s redemption – and redemption for perfectionists, no less.
Multimedia artist Phil Hansen gave a fantastic Ted Talk on this recently, When Limits Spark Creativity. A few years into art school, his hand began to shake uncontrollably, and he learned that he had a permanent condition that would never allow him control of his hands. After an empty, artless space of time, he began to create art that celebrates limitations. One of his recent works debuted in Times Square.
There is a crack in everything: that’s how the light gets in.