A Cracked Mug – Memories & Loss

A Cracked Mug – Memories & Loss

Eight years ago, my friend Mary gave me a giant mug as a hostess gift. She had come from Egypt to Boston for a conference and our apartment in Cambridge provided a perfect place and easy access to the conference. The mug was not just any mug – it was from the Starbucks country collection or “You are Here” mugs, so along with being 16 ounces, it also had a picture of the pyramids and the word ‘Egypt’ in large letters across it.

It quickly became my favorite mug. Curling up every morning with a homemade latte, a journal and pen in hand, is how I have started most mornings since the week she visited. It has been my routine wherever I’ve been in the world.

It is a routine that easily transferred to my life in Kurdistan. While I can’t get the same coffee and my foam maker burnt out within a month, I’ve found substitutes and it has been a wonderful comfort as I adapt to life in Rania.

Until this morning….

As I poured the hot coffee into the mug, it began leaking out the bottom. Startled, I ran for a saucer. There above the coffee mark was the unmistakable sign of a crack, and clearly a deep one. I transferred the coffee to another cup and took a look. The crack was beyond repair. My beloved mug was finished. I would no longer be able to use it for my morning coffee.

All of Life’s Cracks….

I sighed and then I cried. The tears fell freely, as if they’d been trapped too long and they needed an excuse. In all of our lives there are items we own that represent people, places, or events that are much bigger than what you see on the surface. This mug not only reminded me of one of my favorite places – it represented my life before Massachusetts. It reminded me of a world that was hidden, visible only through photo albums and occasional retelling of old stories, told a thousand times before. It reminded me that my life in Egypt was a significant period of time – a time of birthing babies and young motherhood, a time of learning what it was to live overseas as an adult, a time of joy with a growing family. It reminded me of my friendship with Mary, the one who gave me the mug. Mary was present at the births of my two youngest children. We were nurses together in Egypt and our kids spent hours playing together while we solved a good number of the world’s problems.

To see that mug crack made me feel all of life’s cracks and broken pieces. I felt all over again the hurt of goodbyes and the long process of new hellos. I felt the intensity of starting anew and the difficulty of keeping up friendships faraway. I felt the sting of misunderstanding and cultural adjustment. I felt the sadness of living between worlds, the diaspora blues of being – “too foreign for home, too foreign for here, never enough for both”*. I felt the emptiness of lost friendships and the scars of ruined relationships. All of this came over me as I surveyed the spilt coffee and the cracked mug.

I felt so, so sad.

It’s now several hours later, and I still feel myself on the brink of tears. What I wish I could do with this old, beautiful Egypt mug is to mend it with gold, the Japanese art of “kintsugi”. Instead of throwing away the object that has cracked and broken, this restores the piece, making it even more interesting and beautiful. The focus becomes the cracks and the scars. My mug deserves that sort of care, deserves to be an object of interest and pride, like a mended tea pot that I have owned for years and carried around the world. The teapot was broken into many pieces, but painstakingly mended with large metal clips and a metal bottom put on it to make it stronger.

Though broken and having little of its original beauty it is so much more interesting and represents so well the human condition.  Despite the original break, despite the cracks – it continues to be useable and stronger than if it had never been broken.

I won’t be able to do that, but I will keep the mug. Instead of using it every morning, sipping my morning coffee as I begin the day, I will put it on my desk. I will use it for pencils and pens – a re-purposed memory bank. It deserves at least that. And, like the teapot, it will serve as a continual reminder that the circumstances in life can crack and mar us, but they don’t get to destroy. They don’t, and never will, have that kind of power.

When the Japanese mend broken objects they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold, because they believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.



9 thoughts on “A Cracked Mug – Memories & Loss

  1. My friends and I exchanged mugs every year when we got together for our girls’ reunion. It started with one style of mug and we each had one. While I was spending a home assignment in the US, I left my mug back in Asia because I was afraid it would break. My friend knew this and sent me a second mug. It was one of my most treasured items during that home assignment…and it still is.
    I feel that diaspora blues, especially tonight when we looked through photo albums and that life seems so far in the past yet so much of who I am.
    Thank you for writing what we all feel in so many ways.


  2. Thanks for this post, Marilyn. I can relate to so much of it, and I especially loved this sentence: “It reminded me of a world that was hidden, visible only through photo albums and occasional retelling of old stories, told a thousand times before.” I think that’s what aches for me the most — how hidden the past is. How invisible (especially now that I’m, once again, living among people whose language and accents and — all-too-often — skin tone so resemble my own).

    I’ve been drinking tea out of that very mug most mornings for the past several months. Not only do I love the size and the way it ties me to my past (a reminder that I was, indeed, there — for formative, important years), I love that the mug isn’t actually mine, but my brother’s — a tangible sign of the intangible blessing of dwelling with someone who knows, and shared, my past.


  3. Thank you for sharing this. I can feel your loss, and I totally know what you mean when you say we are “too foreign” for any place. Never enough — or maybe too much, I don’t know. I’m sorry for the loss of your mug; I understand. Maybe one day you can get that gold and fill the crack. I often think the Lord uses the cracks in our lives for something more beautiful. He never wastes our pain or suffering. You are in my prayers.


  4. “To see that mug crack made me feel all of life’s cracks and broken pieces. ” Oh, yes, Marilyn. I feel the cracks, the broken pieces, and the tender places – so strongly sometimes. God be with you as you remember, and mourn, and pick up the pieces to go on again,


  5. Marilyn, this describes a multitude of experiences. Like you, I have such inanimate objects that hold more reminders than can be counted and some, though broken or faded, I just cannot throw away. I was feeling not a little sad until I read how you are re-purposing that cherished mug. I have done that, re-purposing for usefulness . Through it all the one word that comes to mind is redemption. He takes it all, broken, faded, damaged, fills the cracks with love, forgiveness, grace; thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift. Thank you for this reminder.


  6. Ah I have about 12+ similar mugs from Starbucks around the world (love that series even though I am not a fan of the coffee:) When at our home base in Florida I like to choose a mug each morning remembering a little about the place it was purchased. Some days I am in a UAE mood or Vietnam and other days more staid and I choose Cambridge, UK. There are days when the mugs make me pensive or sad though and I purposefully do not look too hard at them. I am reading your book after a quite a few years of reading the blog (love both) and like the mugs, your writings make me smile, feel warm and cosy, or sometimes deep sadness as I can connect so well with the pains of loss. I’m currently debating another international contract and so again at those cross roads of life. Maybe I will let my mugs help me decide somehow. Thank you for your inspiration always.


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