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"Seeing the Light" Through Stained Glass

Updated: Feb 1, 2023

What do you see when you look at this pretty window?

At first glance, you would see a flower-filled box sitting in its own warmly lit window, right? So far, so good. If you were inside my little Chicago bungalow on a sunny day, this is exactly what you'd see--except that if you were to look really close, you'd also see a handful of CRACKS that have a story all their own.

Let me start by confessing that I made this window. This means that I painstakingly chose all the glass, traced and cut all the shapes, bordered all pieces in copper tape, puzzled them edge to edge, and soldered them together. If you look at the window again, try imagining what each step of this entire process must have felt like from my perspective.

You'll probably have different guesses, all accurate, I'm sure, but my first and lingering thought was...challenging! My glass instructor, a veteran of the trade, even discouraged such an advanced project for a first-timer and encouraged me to start with something "easier."

Honestly, I wasn't trying to be a hero or prove the man wrong; I just figured that if I was going to devote God only knows how many hours--in addition to investing in tools and supplies--I should also invest my ambition into something greater (and more useful) than a little sun-catcher.

As you can imagine, some of those pieces were incredibly difficult to cut--with precision--not to mention maintaining the patience required to treat all of them in the same manner, without drawing blood. Remember this is GLASS I was working with, and it was quite temperamental. And, yes, I caught a few splinters and slices, but those were the least of my worries. The hardest part was yet to come.

Imagine now that I've got all the foil-borders puzzled together, and I'm soldering with hot iron and (butter) wire at the seams. Can you feel my "steamy" pleasure at sealing those flower petals together, almost like running that last mile of the Chicago Marathon? Well, that's how it was, and, believe me, I sweated out every last silvery bead...until it looked like the picture you see here. Nearly perfect. Nearly.

Allow me to break in with some pseudo-religion and say, "God help the perfectionists who never know when something is good enough." Aside from needing the wooden frame my husband eventually made, the window was good to go. I was impressed with myself, and my equally-dazzled instructor green-lighted its readiness for patina and homecoming.

Well, wouldn't you know, as I stood there glowing and admiring how pretty this window looked lying on the lighted table, I saw one solder line that was a bit "chunkier" than the rest.

It shouldn't have mattered, but it did. I should have packed up and left, but I didn't.

In retrospect, I know the line was the kind of handcrafted imperfection people admire, but, at the time, I thought, I can do better. I suppose I was also thinking that if this window was going to hang permanently in my home, it would need to be absolutely perfect. Absolutely? Oh Lord! Did I actually have the audacity to reach beyond perfection?

Sadly, the answer is YES. So, there I went with my pointy hot iron, trying to "fix" ONE line of solder, but only succeeding in melting the solder right through to the table. No big deal. I just grabbed more wire, ran a new, "less chunky" line, and realized it was even chunkier than the first. Uh oh! How do I remove some of this line without melting it again?

As quickly as possible, I touched the tip of the iron to a hot ball of liquid silver (think Terminator 2) and carefully panned it toward the fire-proof table. A moment later, the ball dropped onto a different flower petal and cracked that glass. Son-of-a-(bleep bleep bleep)!

I was swearing so loudly in my head that I looked around to make sure no one was looking. Fortunately, everyone was engrossed in their own projects, including the instructor. So, with a boldness I had no right to possess, I hastily melted the seam all around the cracked piece and removed it, and proceeded to cut, shape, foil, and solder a new petal in place.

All the while, I was upbeat and thinking, "You got this, Ter!" My budding new skills were being elevated to the next level, connecting new neurons by the nano-second, and gaining lion-like courage...oh the nerve! I was so self-pumped that I didn't anticipate that another HOT bead of solder would drop onto another flower petal and crack it as well. (Insert more swearing.)

Besides sucking big time, this little "A-bomb" was barking orders at me, "Keep marching, Soldier...`til you get it right!" I thought I was hearing things, but, then, in the same voice, the window harked, "We're in this battle together!" And the window was right! This was a battle!

Throughout the next few hours, I proceeded to do exactly the same thing...WRONG! Times five! The more I tried to "fix" the solder, the more pieces I broke, and the more my window cried, "Abandon ship! Abandon ship!" Even William Shakespeare popped in for a moment to quip, "My how glory doth fade in a blink!" Dammit, Bill, stay out of this!

As painful as this may be to read, imagine my frustration at having to endure (huge doses) of my own well as the embarrassment of my instructor finally coming over to see what I had done (or undone). Wisened soul that he was, he didn't ask what happened; he already knew. And instead of shaming me, which I was already doing for the both of us, he said, quite simply, "You can keep going, if you'd like, or cut your losses now." (Apparently, this is good advice for gamblers...and dummies.)

My instructor walked away to let me contemplate not only my mistakes, but also how I could thoroughly impose my lunk-headed will and destroy the whole shebang. Point taken! And with just that tiny nudge, I realized that I needed to stop torturing my window as well as myself, and possibly set all my tools on fire!

For extra reassurance, I raised the five-crack wonder to the buzzing fluorescents and said, "This could be worse." Not only was I cutting my losses, but I was also resigning myself to the platitude that this is as good as it gets! And I meant it.

Not long after, the window was framed and installed, and though I was fully aware of its lifelong scars, I was only focused on its sun-beaming beauty, feeling proud...and enlightened!

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