The Mug and Me

The Mug and Me

Close up photo of a cracked coffee cup sitting on office desk

PHOTO: Mary van Balen

I fell in love with a coffee mug. Let me explain. It happened on Friday morning at work. I came in as usual, put my lunch in the refrigerator, walked to my desk, lowered my purse into the drawer, and returned to the kitchen to pour a cup of coffee. Then, back to my cubicle.

After signing in and switching IM and phone from offline to “I’m here” mode, I reached for the coffee and took a sip. That’s when I saw them—the dark lines of old cracks. Starting at the pitted rim, they formed a cross whose long vertical disappeared into the coffee.

Immediately, a physical feeling of kinship with the mug overwhelmed me. I’m not in the habit of falling in love with coffee mugs or other inanimate objects, but I couldn’t deny the strong bond I felt with this piece of ceramics. It wasn’t even a particularly attractive piece, just the generic, workplace mug, white with the company logo on one side and a sponsoring company’s logo on the other. Don’t get me wrong. I’m eternally grateful that my place of work provides not only free coffee all day long, but also real mugs to drink it out of; no Styrofoam or paper cups for us.

Still, compared to the collection of mugs that fill my kitchen cupboard, this one was plain. It wasn’t handmade, wood-fired, or a memento from a special place. But, it had my heart.

It was the cracks. The mug and I, we’ve been places and have the scars to prove it. We have imperfections. Weakness in glazes and materials, perhaps there from the beginning, that make us vulnerable. I can’t speak for the mug, but my journey has delivered some significant hits. I’ve taken them, some more gracefully than others, and moved on.

A level of comfort and acceptance connected the mug and me. I had no desire to return to the kitchen and find a newer, unblemished version. It was content to sit on my desk for the day, holding refills and steeping my tea.

Relieved of the desire for perfection, we were two wounded travelers with no need to hide cracks or gray hairs. We were simply taking the day as it came, just as we were.

© 2017 Mary van Balen


  1. Barbara Finan says:

    Wisdom of the years. I resonate…

  2. Patricia Hardesty says:

    It is one thing to find a vertical crack but as I look at this one, I think of arms, slightly bent at the elbows, waiting to embrace someone. You? Me? Could be wide enough for a group hug with Barbara Finan, too!

  3. I’ve secretly thought that it’s our imperfections that make us adorable in God’s eye. I’m tempted to say “you crack me up, Mary” but I know that snuggled within those cracks are memories of the life lived that help us endure.

  4. Anita Davidson says:

    I also have things that have cracked or chipped through the years, and they are more precious to me as a result. They’ve got more character! No doubt God feels the same way about us. Thank you, Mary, and thanks to the cup, too!

    • mary van balen says:

      Thanks for the image of us each becoming more precious in God’s sight as we travel through life and collect plenty of cracks and chips.

  5. Keith Walker says:

    Beautiful reflection, Mary, and as a potter I’ve had some close relationships with mugs and definitely relate to this!

    • mary van balen says:

      As a potter, you do have a special point-of-view. And lost of experience! I’d love to see some of your mugs, cracked or not.

  6. Makes me change my mind about tossing the ceramic tray at my kitchen sink that has been glued in 3 pieces. I have been searching for days for something new, just the right size and color, to replace it, but after all, I think it will do perfectly well for a while longer. It will also serve as a reminder to me of this apt allegory that actually brought tears to my eyes. Such a well written message, Mary!

    • mary van balen says:

      Thank you, Jolaine. I’m glad you are spared further shopping and can enjoy the old tray a while longer. It’s nice to know you’ll think of me now and then when you look at it.

  7. You know I love things with cracks. They crack me up!! ? Okay, it’s almost 3 in the morning, coming down off a 24 hour bug, the best funeral mass I’ve ever been to, and ordering shoes online. Cracked? Love the imperfections! They make us unique, and create bonds. Love you, Mary. Thank you for sharing.

    • mary van balen says:

      Glad you took time to write after such a busy time! Yes, our “cracks” make us unique. I hadn’t though about them creating bonds, but surely they do. How many of us feel an instant connection to others who have struggles, imperfections, and “cracks” similar to our own? They do help us be compassionate and appreciative of one another. Glad our “cracks” brought us together!

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