Amanda Gorman and the Art of Being Unfinished and Imperfect

7 minute read
Susanna Schrobsdorff writes the It’s Not Just You newsletter on Substack

A version of this article appeared in this week’s It’s Not Just You newsletter. SUBSCRIBE HERE to have It’s Not Just You delivered to your inbox every Sunday.

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.

—Leonard Cohen

I am one of those people whose scars are visible—both physical and emotional ones. The scar you notice first when you meet me is on my upper lip. It’s not a surface mark; it’s an intractable knot that bunches the skin like an imperfectly mended hem. (My less tangible scars show up in other ways; just ask my family.)

Over the years, that old wound of mine, that vulnerability, has given people permission to share their own less-visible vulnerabilities with me. And I’m not the first to make this observation, but I’ve learned that no matter how together someone may seem, most of us have a private list of broken bits—the things we think we need to conceal or erase.

If only we could fix those asymmetries, we tell ourselves, or fill that gap and find that missing ingredient—whether it’s a title, a certain weight, the cure for some anxiety or acceptance in a group we covet—we’ll finally feel whole.

When I heard the line in Amanda Gorman’s dazzling inaugural poem where she describes the United States as “a nation that is not broken, but simply unfinished,” I thought of all those things that make us feel unworthy, unfinished, or broken.

How transformative would it be if we could embrace the idea that unfinished is our natural and permanent state? Is it possible for us to accept that there is no seamless fix for what ails us individually or as a community? Our path, if we’re lucky, is evolution without an end.

We’ll carry with us the scars of this long year, and of all our history. And as someone who’s spent years trying to paper over, distract from or excise a deep scar, I can tell you: even if no one else sees it, you never forget it’s there.

So as we go about mending a nation, and ourselves, perhaps we can take inspiration from Kintsugi, a very old Japanese tradition in which broken pottery pieces are put together with gold lacquer. You don’t hide the cracks; you celebrate the repairs. Golden rivulets bind shards of a bowl or cup. Scars become art. And the result is something more beautiful than perfect: something visibly resilient. 💌

Kintsugi Japanese antique ceramic bowl
Kintsugi, a traditional Japanese restoration technique uses gold to mend broken pottery.Getty Images/iStockphoto

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We’re heading toward the first anniversary of the stay-at-home orders wrought by the coronavirus pandemic, and for those without nearby family, it’s been tough. And it’s not over yet, so here are a few thoughts on dealing with isolation:

How to Combat Pandemic Loneliness From making an old-fashioned voice call to a friend, to helping a stranger or walking outside and finding opportunities for ad-hoc interactions in the neighborhood or town, maintaining social connections is essential for mental health.

Loneliness Is a Modern Invention. How understanding that history can help us get through this pandemic.

Amanda Gorman speaking at the Inauguration of President Joe Biden in Washington, D.C. on Jan 21.
Amanda Gorman, delivers a poem during the inauguration of President Joe Biden in Washington, D.C. on Jan 20.Erin Schaf—Pool/Getty Images National Youth Poet Laureate,

A word about Amanda Gorman, the luminous 22-year-old poet who lifted a bruised and not so united United States with her stunning inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb.” In that poem, Gorman challenged us to become the generous and resilient people she sees with those wise young eyes.

Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew
That even as we hurt, we hoped
That even as we tired, we tried

Gorman, who is the first National Youth Poet Laureate of the United States also wrote a poem in April in response to the pandemic. It’s called “The Miracle of Morning,” and you can hear her read it here, This is just one of the inspiring passages:

Let each morning find us courageous, brought closer;
Heeding the light before the fight is over.
When this ends, we’ll smile sweetly, finally seeing
In testing times, we became the best of beings.



Here’s your weekly reminder that creating a community of generosity elevates us all.

Zoel Zohnnie, founder of the Water Warriors United, Navajo Nation
Zoel Zohnnie, founder of Water Warriors UnitedCourtesy of Zoel Zohnnie—Water Warriors United/Pandemic of Love

Zoel Zohnnie, is a Navajo Native from Arizona, but calls the Four Corners region his home. At the onset of the pandemic, when his community issued a shelter-in-home order, Zoel, raised by his native elders to serve those in need, began to deliver safe, clean drinking water to families in the most remote areas of the Navajo Reservation. A significant percentage of that population does not have access to running water or clean water in their homes, a deficit that is particularly problematic during a pandemic when hand washing is critical.

With his own pickup truck and a few barrels of water, Zoel (pictured above) began doing daily deliveries, and soon, word of his efforts spread throughout the Tribe. He was getting more requests on a daily basis than he could meet. He had to purchase another truck and a flatbed, and eventually two and then three, and more.

Zoel needed funding to continue his grassroots efforts, which he formalized into the non-profit, Water Warriors United. Then he was introduced to Pandemic of Love through a mutual friend of the organization’s founder. Pivoting from its normal course of 1:1 matches between families in need and donors, Pandemic of Love designed a way for donors to “adopt a Navajo household” and purchase a delivered and installed barrel of water on an on-going basis for families on the reservation.

Water Warriors United, Navajo Nation delivery
Water Warriors United delivers clean water to families in the Navajo Nation.Courtesy Zoel Zohnnie —Water Warriors United/Pandemic of Love

Since their partnership began in late April, Water Warriors United has delivered over 325,000 gallons of water to families in need, and Zoel says the program has made his mother proud: “When I told my mom about the water campaign, she cried, and said: ‘That is how we are raised—we were taught to be there for one another when we need to be.’”

He also says he’s been inspired by the spirit of his ancestors, especially his father: God has always put someone in my life who has helped me…I want to be that for others—I am a vessel for His work and I strongly believe that.” Zoel pledges that the grassroots Navajo Nation Water Campaign will continue as long as he has requests for water.

This story is courtesy of Shelly Tygielski, founder of Pandemic of Love, a grassroots organization that matches those who want to become donors or volunteers directly with those who’ve asked for help with essential needs. Visit Pandemic of Love to give or apply for assistance.


Our weekly acknowledgment of the animals that help us make it through the storm. (Send your comfort creature photos, or other comments and suggestions to me at )

Meet MAX and MIMI, rescue kittens born at the start of the pandemic and adopted in June by EMILY. And here’s PHOEBE who has become very affectionate in her old age, shared by SUSAN in Eugene, OR.

Max and MimiCourtesy Susanna Schrobsdorff
INJY-ComfortDog-Phoebe From Susan
Phoebe (left) and SusanCourtesy Susanna Schrobsdorff

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Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article had one instance where Amanda Gorman’s name was misspelled as Gordon.

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