Tom was my teacher.
Just a few years older than me, Tom had developed tremendous skill and deftness in his craft. He had a gentle way of communicating his skills that allowed one to get glimmers of the tremendous passion he held for his creating. I became increasingly fascinated with the positive energy that this teacher exuded, and his commitment to share his passion with others. How did he come to be who he now is? I asked Tom to tell me his story.
At the age of seventeen, Tom was involved in a terrible bicycling accident. A broken back forced him into a body cast followed by several months of painful physical therapy. Although he was making a recovery, the multiple losses of physical freedom, connection to friends, and loss of a school year all contributed to a deep depression, more crippling than his physical disability. At times his despair gave way to rage which he verbally hurled at anyone within earshot. The recipient of his anger was most commonly his mother. The day he threw his bedside lamp across the room was the day his mother took more serious action.
When Tom had calmed down enough to regain some control, his mother led him gingerly into the storage area of their dusky basement. Through a few high windows, Tom could make out the shape of old storm windows his mother had gathered together in the middle of the floor. She handed him a small hammer and goggles. In this basement refuge he was welcome to hurl, smash or destroy anything within his reach. Destructive anger was welcome here. Safe, controlled anger could be brought upstairs for discussion when he was ready.
Tom picked up the hammer reluctantly. Standing alone in the semi-darkness he felt self-conscious. Half-heartedly, he took a swing. The smashing glass splintered across the room making sweet tingling noises as it met the concrete floor. One blow escalated into another as each swing of the hammer reminded him of the pain in his back and the anger overwhelming his spirit. He swung the hammer until there was nothing left but small fragments of glass and wood scattered throughout the room. Exhausted, he climbed the stairs back to his room and fell asleep.
Each day when Tom felt he could stand his situation no more, he would retreat to the basement. A ready supply of fresh glass and old windows awaited him. For weeks he reduced any shard of glass within his reach to dust. With each blow of the hammer, his anger diminished. With each swing of the hammer his body became stronger.
Tom clearly remembered the morning he paused at the edge of the basement door and took stock of the carnage he had wrought over the preceding weeks. As his eyes swept the room, a ray of light danced over the mountain of shattered glass. The room felt different to him. Dropping the hammer to the floor, he reached out and picked out a piece of glass that was still large enough to hold. Lifting the glass to the window, he turned it in his hand to watch the light play with its crooked angles. With excitement he searched for another quarter-sized piece and compared it to the first. By morning’s end he had assembled a mosaic on the floor, held vulnerably together by threads of glue.
Tom’s mother continued her daily outings in search of glass for her son’s recuperation. But now she brought home large panes of bright colored glass, some with ripples and designs swirled through. The basement had been transformed into a brightly-lit workroom with tools of creation replacing the hammer of destruction. Working through his pain, Tom devoted long hours towards bonding pieces of glass together in designs and patterns that brought pleasure to him and others. By the time I met Tom he had become a master artisan.
Tom was a teacher of stained glass.