The art form was new to me: small sculptures created from pieces of glass. But the chance to be creative, to use my hands to mold what normally lives only in my imagination, was a draw all its own. If there was art to be made, I wanted to be part of it.
Joining others from the retreat in the small art studio on campus, I carefully gathered pieces of cut and broken glass in various shapes and colors to build a simple cross. The rough edges needed sanding; the flat edges would be glued together.
I was there with friends, old and new, looking around at what others were doing, creating patterns of my own, crissing and crossing the slender pieces of glass. A slip of the hand, and my blood would be mingled with glue and glass dust. Some of my fellow sculptors experienced the pain of glasswork.
My hands escaped still smooth.
As I settled on a design and began gluing the pieces together, cementing them with a black light like dentists use for resin fillings, I imagined where I would display the small sculpture. A particular window ledge in the kitchen, where light would catch the blue and beveled glass, kept coming to mind.
Then, I remembered where I was: thousands of miles away from home, with hours of car trips and airlines flights and mind-numbing escalator rides separating me, and the little cross, from the kitchen window.
“What do you think TSA will think of this?” I asked my fellow artists, holding up a piece of glass that could serve as a weapon from four different angles.
The instructor came over, running his fingers over the brittle glass. “You’ll want to pack that in a box,” he said.
I thought of the over-stuffed carry-on luggage I had brought, hoping to avoid the costs of checking baggage. “But do you think TSA will let me carry it on the plane?” I asked, swiping it through the air to reveal its alternate use.
“I don’t know,” he said. “But you won’t want to put pressure on any of those tall pieces, or they’ll snap.
I thought I would snap, thinking about leaving my art behind. I looked around at all of the other pieces that were being built. Many of the burgeoning artists had arrived in cars, from just a few hours in various directions. One couple had built five or six crosses to give as Christmas gifts; they would line them up in boxes in the trunk or in the back seat. Their masterpieces would arrive safely, without the scrutiny of airport security.
“I should have thought of this before I made it,” I said to no one in particular, wishing away the jagged glass that was cutting a hole in my heart.
And it was true: if I had thought about the trip home even just 30 minutes earlier, the little cross with the blue and beveled glass would likely never have existed. I would never have taken the risk of handling the sharp-edged pieces or of turning my imagination inside-out in front of others.
I carried the little cross with me out of the studio. I looked at it as I walked down the path. I ran my fingers over the smooth edges as I placed it on the shelf where the others were showcasing theirs until the retreat ended.
During the last couple of sessions, each time I passed by the little display, I checked in on the blue and beveled cross. It paled in comparison to some of the more lovely creations. But it’s what I was able to see and bring to life out of the broken bits of glass that cluttered the studio.
When I passed by the glass sculpture for the last time, I didn’t even have a chance to look.
Someone mentioned mailing it to me; I told her it seemed like too much trouble. Who knows? The little cross I left behind may eventually find its way to the kitchen ledge, after all. But after a few hours, I was glad the little cross had found its way into the world, even if I didn’t know its fate.