The mug Jadwiga made me was blue on the inside, white on the outside, and covered with strange creatures. A mixture of humans, cats, and bunny rabbits, the creatures had long oval faces, dots for eyes, a round nose, crescent shaped lips, and eyebrows. Human half-circle ears at the sides and pointy ears at the tops. Behind the heads were large, half-circle bodies, supported with tiny hoofs and concluded with a round tail. Between the creatures, Jadwiga (pronounced Yad-Vee-Ga) had painted small flowers with yellow centres and five or six red petals. For my birthday, my boss Nathalie had ordered the cup from the L’Arche workshop where Jadwiga worked. It was supposed to be from my entire L’Arche house of people with intellectual disabilities. On the bottom, Jadwiga wrote, “To Erica, from Jadwiga.” Jadwiga loved to write her name on everything she created. And if anything had her name on it, she hated to throw it out. In the mail, she’d receive membership offers from credit card and insurance companies.
“Well it is for me,” she would say. “Jad-wi-ga, it says. Jad-wi-ga Lukasik. That’s me, Er-i-ca.” Often she’d take the scissors and cut her name out of the envelope, storing it amongst piles of paper in her desk. Every morning for breakfast, Jadwiga ate a small bowl of Cornflakes with milk, a piece of toast and jam, a glass of orange juice and instant decaf coffee poured into a mug. Always she used the same dishes. A bowl that would hold only the permitted amount of Cornflakes, (our restrictions, not hers), a small spoon to measure the jam and eat the cereal with, a small white plate, a short juice glass, and her special mug.
“That is my cup,” she’d say. “With a cat on it. The cat was black and on the white cup was patterned floral designs and calligraphied letters. Regularly, Jadwiga would sound out the words.
“What. People. Rea-lly. Need. Well what it says, Erica?”
“You can read it,” I’d tell her.
“What Peo-ple Rea-lly Need. Is. A Good. Listening to. Okay. That’s very interesting.” She’d look at the cup for a moment. “Well, Erica, one day, it will be gone. Broken. My cup. With the cat on it.” Every time she heard something shatter in the kitchen, she’d say. “Well, it is my cup, proba-blee. With the cat on it.” When she discovered it wasn’t her cup, she’d say, “Well, one day, it will be my cup. Gone. Broken.”
One day, Jadwiga’s cup did shatter. I think someone dropped it as they were drying the dishes.
“I knew it,” Jadwiga said. “It was my cup. Gone. Broken.”
I lived with Jadwiga for two years in the L’Arche community, from when I was 19 until I was nearly twenty-two. Now I am almost twenty-eight and I live in Halifax with my boyfriend.
The other morning as I was getting ready for work, I’d left my empty coffee cup with Jadwiga’s strange creatures on it on the ledge at the top of the banister. As I reached for it before heading downstairs, I knocked it over and it shattered, the strange creatures’ amputated limbs and divided bodies spread all over the upstairs hallway. My cup. Broken. The one thing that Jadwiga had made for me. She likely won’t make me anything else. She is old now and can’t remember who I am. I should never have been so careless, leaving the cup so precariously at the top of the staircase. Then again, even if the cup had been spared that morning, another morning, it would have been gone, broken.
On September 20, I called Jadwiga to wish her a happy 74th birthday. She is used to receiving phone calls from her sister Lucy and she began to speak to me in Polish.
“It’s Erica,” I said.
“Oh, Erica,” she said, confused. “Well, Erica, you will prepare yourself and supper, and eat it alone. I tried to explain that I wasn’t alone. I was in Halifax. I had a boyfriend, and at that time, a dog.
“Well, I’m not feeling very good,” Jadwiga said. “But it’s okay. You too, proba-blee. Not feeling very good.”
“Oh, I’m okay,” I said. “Sorry, you’re not feeling well.”
“Well, Erica, thank you for your call. I won’t keep you. You will prepare yourself a supper and eat it alone.”
“That’s okay, Jadwiga. I’m not in a hurry.”
“I said I won’t keep you. Goodnight.” And she hung up.
When you have a cup, the Buddhists says that you should see it as already broken. Because soon it will be. And then you won’t be disappointed.
The cup is broken. The bus is broken. The relationship is broken. This body, this life. My body, my life. Gone.
I put the broken pieces of my cup in a plastic bag in the basement. I never bothered rinsing off the coffee residue.
Now I am taking a picture of the broken pieces. After that, I will throw them in the garbage, and then they will be gone.
Jadwiga's Strange Broken Creatures:
The Image on Jadwiga's Broken Cup with the Cat:
|What People Really Need Is A Good Listening To.|
Exuberant Bodhisattva on Facebook
I Let Go, self-help book by Erica J. Schmidt
My Life's Purpose
A Broken Body is Not a Broken Spirit
Not Separate From All That Is