The Broken Shovel

Inspired by acts of kindness from my neighbours, one day I decided to shovel snow for a few of them. As I was shoveling, I noticed a half-shoveled sidewalk with a broken shovel lying near a pile of snow. It was evident that whoever shoveled the snow could not complete the work as the shovel broke down. Anyways, I proceeded to complete the half-shoveled sidewalk and then moved on to clear the sidewalk for another neighbour. Suddenly, a young man approached me and asked;

“Why did you shovel the snow on my sidewalk? Did you see my broken shovel?”

“Yes, I did see the broken shovel and I cleared the rest of the sidewalk” I replied with a friendly smile.

“Oh well, thank you so much. My name is Ashton”, he said so offering a firm handshake. He seemed to be very happy for the fact that I noticed the broken shovel and went on to complete the task that he wanted to.  It was then followed by one of the beautiful conversations I ever had in the recent past.

It is true that I had a pleasant experience. But as the day progressed, for some strange unknown reasons, I grew restless. Something within me was whispering that there was more to it than a casual pleasant conversation. Eventually, like many other things in life, I let it go. Later, I had an opportunity to share this experience with one of my colleagues. This helped me to delve deeper into the unease that I experienced. I thought everything in that experience had something to tell me.  The imageries of ‘broken shovel’ and the ‘half-completed’ work – as if they all had something to say.

Metaphorically taken, what do they mean in our lives? Shovel represents our ability to live a healthy life. Having a good shovel helps us to keep our ‘sidewalks’ clean so that others can ‘walk’ on them without major issues. Sidewalks mean different relational dimensions of our life. The quality of ‘shovel’ that we have depends on numerous factors; past experiences, gender, race, physical attributes are a few of them.

Don’t we all have a few ‘broken shovels’ in our lives preventing us from keeping some ‘sidewalks’ clean? We tried our best to keep those ‘sidewalks’ clean. But, since our shovel was broken, we could not get the work done. Our ‘shovel’ may have been broken by some of the hurt that we had to endure which may have made us angry, pessimistic, aggressive, withdrawn or not having the courage to trust and be vulnerable. Others can only see these piles of snow, not the broken shovel. Those of us who had to endure significant physical, social, systemic, and emotional trauma are highly likely to have ‘broken shovels.’ Haunted by the scars left behind by these experiences, we are challenged to ‘keep our sidewalks clean’ to keep it safe for others to walk on.

It also begs the question if we can muster the courage to be vulnerable and show our ‘broken shovels’ to others, whether we are ready to let someone into our sidewalk and help us complete the work that we set out to finish.  

The shovel could also mean the power and privilege that we carry depending on the race, class, and other factors. If you are rich and belong to a privileged race, you are likely to have a strong shovel to keep your sidewalks clean. But your neighbour living on paycheck to paycheck belonging to a marginalized community may not have the strong shovel to keep up with you.

However, most of us who walk by the ‘sidewalk’ see only the heap of snow which was not removed. We only see the ‘half-finished work’. We are annoyed by the slippery sidewalk. We judge them to be lazy and irresponsible. Our natural tendency is to avoid walking on those slippery sidewalks.

But, only few of us can see the broken shovel, most often half-buried in a pile of snow.

What will be our world if we can spot the broken shovel behind the pile of snow? Not everyone may want to be vulnerable and show their broken shovel. But, very often, intuitively we understand ‘something is wrong’, that they need our help in competing the work that they started.

I dare to say that it is our calling, to be able to show our broken shovel and seek support, and to extend a helping hand to those whose shovels are broken. It is the healing. Till all the sidewalks are clean, we all can lend a hand to one another to make up for each other’s broken shovels.


You walked by my sidewalk

sometimes uncleared, untidy, and slippery

At times, unsafe and unattractive

Made you fall at times.


A few have walked before you

Some fell, some slipped and others hurt

And they all walked by

Walking on the shiny sidewalks of others.


Those walked on my sidewalk

Some cursed me, while others condemned.

Some shed tears of sympathy

But they all walked by.


Today I want you to know

If I could, I would have cleared it all for you

To have you walked on it safe and sound

To have you dance on it in joy abound.


I had all the will and desire

To keep my sidewalk clean and tidy

To have you walk on it in joy

But a broken shovel.


I am sorry to have you fallen

To have you slipped

Not something that I wanted

But a broken shovel.