I recently came across the wonderful story of an old woman who was living by herself many many years ago. Every morning, she went to the river to get fresh water. She took a long pole, hung an old bucket from the left side and another bucket from the right side. Always the same buckets on the same sides of the pole.
The walk down the dirt path from her house wasn’t very long. At the river, she would take the pole with the buckets off her shoulders and carefully dip each bucket in the river, filling it with cold, fresh water. Then, just as carefully, she would place each bucket back on the pole, lift the pole up onto her shoulders, and slowly make her way back.
As she walked home, the right-hand bucket held the water perfectly, whereas the left-hand bucket, had a small crack in the bottom leaking out a persistent drip. By the time the woman reached home, the bucket would be half empty, which happened day after day, week after week, year after year.
Nothing changed… until one day, just as they arrived at the river, the left-hand bucket sighed. This surprised the woman. She had never heard a bucket sigh before.
Then the bucket spoke. “I am so sorry. I am so sorry.”
“What are you sorry about?” the woman asked the bucket. “That I keep leaking. You work so hard bringing water to the house, and I am half-empty when we arrive home. A bucket has only one job and I can’t do it correctly.”
“Well, you do bring home half a bucket full of water.”
“Don’t mock me. I know what I am. I’m a failure. I was meant to carry water. I can’t do it. I have this crack, this defect. I’m a failure at the one thing I’m meant to do.”
The old woman looked down at the bucket, which had been on her left side for all these years. With a look of sadness and compassion, she began to speak. “My good friend. I am so, so sorry. I had no idea you felt this way. You’ve been suffering all this time, and you have no idea at all, do you?”
“What you mean? No idea about what?” asked the bucket.
“Let me show you.” She gently picked up the pole with the filled buckets and, as they walked home, she said to the right-hand bucket, “What do you see?”
“I see dirt. I see the path same as every day,” said the right-hand bucket.
“That’s right,” said the woman. “Now, what do you see?” she asked the left-hand bucket.
The left-hand bucket looked down for the first time ever and was amazed. All along the edge of dirt path were flowers, blooming beautifully in a splash of colours.
While the right side was bare, the left side, her side, was lush and picturesque. Through the crack in the bucket, water dripped out and fell right onto the flowers, giving moisture to each plant.
“I planted those flowers,” said the woman. “They’re lovely, but they need a lot of care. And they especially need daily watering. So, when I found you, I knew I’d found exactly what I needed. Every morning, I fill you with water. And every morning, as I walk back up this hill, you sprinkle out, so carefully, so precisely, drop by drop, exactly the right amount of water to keep these flowers flourishing so beautifully. This path is a wonderful place, and it’s all because of you. I’m so sorry you never knew this and thought you were a broken failure. You’re not a failure, and you’re not broken. You’re perfect.”
The bucket was stunned and smiled silently. The woman looked at it and said with wise eyes, “The crack that you thought made you a failure was exactly what was needed to make our world a more beautiful place. Thank you for that!”
Just like the old bucket, we all have our cracks, our weaknesses, and things which make us sometimes think we are failures. But, what if that’s not true? What if these perceived shortcomings just make us whole and perfect… and useful to the world and those around just the way we are… no fixing necessary? What if they actually mean our buckets aren’t “half-empty” in any real sense after all?
I want to encourage you to pause today for a moment, open your eyes and look at the flowers that you create along your way. Look for even the tiniest little shoots with which you make this world a better place and let yourself be awed by the many glorious blossoms that appear when you allow yourself to really, fully acknowledge your value… your worth.
Perfection… it’s a nice concept, but who would trade lovable or generous or kind or happy for perfect? Who would choose to grind out the job of “carrying water” perfectly if it meant a path… a life… with no flowers?
In the words of songwriter, Leonard Cohen:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in…