Last year my sister moved from the Houston area back to North Texas. The move went well, she had movers pick up and deliver the contents of her old house to her new house and store it in the time in between. Everything appeared to have gone well, that was until she started unpacking… She found several broken and things (such as our grandmother’s china). She thought she had found it all and dealt with the anger and frustration that accompanied each shard. Until she unpacked her Christmas decorations eight months later.
To be honest the carnage could have been much worse, but she was still hurt to discover busted up snowmen. (Snowmen are her Christmas thing. Our mother collects Santa figurines, and I started out collecting jingle bells but you can only collect so many jingle bells…my thing eventually just became the all encompassing Christmas category.)
Now, over the years I have become known as the pottery and glass fixer in the family. I have conducted successful reconstructive surgery on a couple of ceramic frogs, pumpkins, and plates. I am not an expert; I just have a steady hand with a bottle of Gorilla Super Glue and a knack for puzzles.
My sister brought over a box of snowman pieces and I set to work sorting and setting.
As I worked, I thought of how brokenness is sometimes a blessing. Each repair line is stronger than it was before, once the glue cures.
In Japan, cracked pottery is often repaired to emphasize the “damage”. This practice is called Kintsugi (also known as kintsukuroi).
Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum.
The philosophy behind this practice is to embrace the flawed and imperfect. Illuminating the cracks and repairs as simply an event in the life of an object rather than allowing its service to end at the time of its damage or breakage, and can be seen as an example of the saying, “Waste not, want not”
“Not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally illuminated… a kind of physical expression of the spirit of mushin….Mushin is often literally translated as “no mind,” but carries connotations of fully existing within the moment, of non-attachment, of equanimity amid changing conditions. …The vicissitudes of existence over time, to which all humans are susceptible, could not be clearer than in the breaks, the knocks, and the shattering to which ceramic ware too is subject. This poignancy or aesthetic of existence has been known in Japan as mono no aware, a compassionate sensitivity, or perhaps identification with, [things] outside oneself.”
— Christy Bartlett, Flickwerk: The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics
I grew up in a family of fixers. If something is broken or doesn’t work…take it apart and try to fix it, you can’t really make it not work more. We live in a very disposable world…if its broken, throw it away and buy a new one. Perhaps we all need to keep Kintsugi in mind next time we encounter brokenness, both in objects and in our own lives.
What would the world be like if we wholeheartedly embraced, and even highlighted our imperfections, our scars, our brokenness?