This essay of mine originally appeared on Donald Miller’s Storyline Blog.
I think it was the ax that made me stop the longest. It was the ax a man used to break up his girlfriend’s furniture when she said she wanted to break up with him.
But there were other compelling items, too. The wedding dress, the joker card, the stun gun, the Galileo thermograph, the three-volume set of Proust, the stuffed animals, the unopened letters, the court summons for rape.
All of these things were on display at the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, Croatia, when I was there recently on a magazine assignment.
Zagreb is a beautiful and sophisticated city.
It is the capitol of this relatively new country that was part of the former Yugoslavia. It has more museums and art galleries and cathedrals than most similar-sized cities in Europe, which is saying a lot.
But the museum that got my attention the first day I was there was this one, dedicated to commemorating what has been lost through deception, betrayal, indifference, change of heart or mind, and death.
Most of the other places of interest in Zagreb had a few visitors in each.
This place was packed.
People from all over the world were there, gazing at the shoes worn at a wedding where the marriage lasted just a few days. And in front of that was a garden gnome, which used to be a playful symbol between two lovers…until it wasn’t.
And the barbed wire. And the positive heroin test.
Along with each item was a brief description of its significance, written by the contributor.
The letter sent by the son, returned unopened by the father, describing what the father had missed in his son’s life.
The museum is an artful collection of specific lamentations.
The curator told me that there is an entire warehouse full of additional donated items, waiting to be rotated through. There are so many stories of broken hearts, a museum dedicate specifically to that topic can’t even contain them.
Even the café next door was in on it—the sign outside said, “We serve beer as cold as your ex’s heart.”
This got me thinking.
Broken relationships seem to be a universal experience, the “thing” that gets to us more than any other thing, what we spend our time thinking about.
Have you ever met a person who hasn’t had a broken relationship?
So the question is: where do people go to have relationships restored, renewed, reconciled, maybe even healed?
Right around the corner from this museum are several churches that have historical significance and spectacular art. There is also a stone gate that has an icon of Mary and the baby Jesus, where people have gazed, wept, prayed for miracles in their lives.
I hope my church is not a museum, but a place that is alive.
I hope it is a place where people come for rest and repair. I hope my home is a place where people come for rest and repair.
I hope I am a person to whom people come for rest and repair from their broken hearts.
I hope we can all be this kind of person.
What would be left to feature in a museum of broken hearts if we made space for healing, for ourselves and those around us? Instead of an ax, maybe some glue.