Humpty Dumpty’s great fall resulted in a whole lot of broken pieces. And as the English nursery rhyme goes that first appeared in the late nineteenth century, “All the King’s horses and all the King’s men, couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again.” The image of broken Humpty Dumpty at the bottom of a wall has been a metaphor for many things, particularly the often sudden crash of a life that seemingly had everything.
I have found myself thinking about Humpty Dumpty off and on throughout life, usually when I am struggling with my own limitations and brokenness. Times when it seems like there are too many pieces to put back together. The popular image of the character, first appearing about the year 1870 in England, is that of an egg. When an egg falls off a wall, it splats in a hundred directions. Or leaves pieces. Know the feeling?
But it is the seeming hopelessness of the rhyme that carries perhaps the biggest impression. No one, not even the most powerful symbol of the King and his horses and men, can put the pieces of Humpty Dumpty together again. And that is the very real feeling that so many of us feel in times of pain and grief. A feeling that life is hopeless, that things just won’t ever fit again.
Yet the true fact is that after we have had a fall of any kind, and a season of brokenness begins, things will not fit in the same way as they did before. The fall can be because of failed expectations, either by us or by people we loved and trusted. It can be because of terrible grief that threatens to leave us forever changed. We lie at the bottom of the wall, and all we feel is how many pieces our once together life now represents.
A few days ago I was taken to the airport by an older man who had suffered with depression since his teenage years. As he opened up to me, the pain of his life reached out and touched my heart. He kept using the phrase ‘once I get organized’ as he would share his dreams and passions which included a love for model trains. This dear man, now in his middle 60’s, has been receiving comfort in counseling he has received at his church. This counselor has brought some important understanding to him related to autism, and in knowing this for the first time some of the pieces, while not fitting, have taken on new meaning in hope.
I came away from this short encounter saddened yet also feeling a hope and joy for this man. There are many pieces to his life, most of them broken, yet in the grace and restoring love of God new life is emerging. You see each piece of our life, however broken, is precious to the living God who loves us so deeply. It may not be a full Humpty Dumpty that can be put back together again, but each piece can be lovingly held and lovingly re-created to shape us into new patterns of transformed life.
And then the question comes: was the Humpty Dumpty sitting atop the wall someone we wanted to be anyway? Or was it a false image, a false life that required so much energy just to keep going. Sometimes letting things die is more important than trying to keep them alive. Being at the bottom of the wall aware of each broken piece, and despairing whether we will ever be whole again, is strangely a place of new life. A new beginning.
Of course it does not seem that way when it is happening. But often the key to new life is letting what needs to die truly die. The pain is hideous, not to be prayed for. Yet the new life that comes is rich beyond imagination. We are not talking about a reconstituted Humpty Dumpty, back up sitting on his wall. But a completely transformed Humpty Dumpty, more likely still dwelling among the pieces. Able to offer life and love to so many more down there than high up on his wall.
It is a hideous journey. But one marking each piece with love.