Joyce Rupp | One Drab Brown Thing
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One Drab Brown Thing

Not long ago I came across an intriguing poem that continues to invite me to reflection:

One pebble drab and brown
I keep and cherish.
Everyone should love
One drab brown thing. (Chan Sei Ghow)

Why a drab brown thing? Why not something colorful, easily looked upon as beautiful? Most people readily over-look the simple and non-descript in this world, whether this be an individual or a thing. They do not meet most human assessment of what is worthy. There’s a strong tendency to want the perfect, the unmarred. I noticed this recently in sharing a video on creation that opens with a newborn child. Someone seeing it remarked, “Oh, that baby has such thick lips.” Ah yes, a less than perfect body, according to that person’s view,” I thought, “Does this make the child any less precious?” Definitely not. Opinions and evaluations arise out of an inclination to compare everything and everyone to some ideal notion held in the mind. So I like it that Chan Sei Ghow writes about cherishing a drab brown thing.

After reading the poem I asked myself, “What is the one drab brown thing that I value?” I searched my mind for what this might be but was left blank. I then looked around my dwelling for something material and I found the item quite easily. There on my bookshelf sits a small llama with a baby attached to her, an art piece created from dark, splintered wood. The figures have obviously been carved by a less than skilled wood-worker. But I value this little item that has been with me since 1976.

Why do I keep this drab brown thing? History. Memory. Connections. Looking at or holding this cherished item immediately returns me to graduate school days in Texas where I studied theology. During those years of early adulthood, my inner life took a leap into unknown territory, expansive ways of viewing and understanding spirituality as it relates to life. During that time I also met my best friend who remains to this day close to my heart.

Chan Sei Ghow’s poem led me to revisit the Asian concept of “Wabi Sabi.” This approach values flaws and sees beauty in what some would deem “ugly.” Wabi Sabi welcomes the well-worn and irregular aspects of material things, the chips and cracks that we in the Western world disdain. Seen with a Wabi Sabi view, what we tend to discard holds intricate value. Drab brown things like a ragged childhood toy, a tattered owl feather, a faded photo, a frayed sweater with a hole in the elbow, an old book with pages falling out, a dying flower, a wrinkled face—each is treasured for what it is.

“The wish to improve life is real and attainable, but the desire for a perfect life, the perfect home, the perfect health, the perfect job, the perfect love—is the desire for something nonexistent” writes Taro Gold in Living Wabi Sabi. He continues, “Unfortunately, the hard-to-escape barrage of ‘perfect’ images in the media would have us believe otherwise. We all know the marketing mythology: Buy this perfect product, get that perfect life.”

So I am looking at my life and my world with a restored view. When I find myself evaluating someone or something up against what is “perfect” or ideal I return to Chan Sei Ghow’s “drab brown thing.” Looking at people and things with the eye of appreciation, instead of with the eye of perfection, makes all the difference.

© Joyce Rupp