How many of us have tried to glue together a broken plate or cup or figurine in such a way that the damage is invisible? A friend once sent me some ceramic tai chi figures that all got broken in shipment. I spent hours piecing together the fragments. Most of the repairs were almost undetectable, but I was frustrated by a few places where the seams did not match perfectly, where it was easy to see that the figure had been broken and repaired. I saw these places as flaws and put the figures on the shelf with the defects turned toward the wall.
Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with adhesive mixed with gold. Rather than trying to hide the damage, the breakage becomes part of the acknowledged history of the piece. The golden seams highlight the repair, creating their own design and contributing to the beauty of the original.
I had never heard of this practice until yesterday, when a devastated friend who lost her two dogs in a tragic accident told me about it, questioning the “added value of mended brokenness.” She wondered whether she could ever “get there.”
If we live long enough, we will have our hearts broken, and perhaps have our lives shattered. We talk in terms of healing and becoming whole again. But after we put the pieces back together, what becomes of the scars that are a part of our history? Are we embarrassed by them? Do we try to hide them? Do we forget them and pretend the hurt never happened? Do we strive to present to the world, and to ourselves, an image of original perfection, unblemished by the wear and tear of life?
I can certainly look at my own life and identify things I wish weren’t there–wounds that still hurt, actions I’m ashamed of, failures that still sting, losses that haunt. In my own mind, my history is rewritten to minimize or even erase things that do not fit the story I prefer to tell. My life is full of “inconvenient truth.”
But yesterday I spent hours reading about the history and philosophy of this remarkable Japanese art. I looked at hundreds of images of bowls, plates, cups, and vases, once broken but now beautifully repaired with seams of gold crisscrossing the original design. Here is unapologetic brokenness, openly acknowledged, and sealed with something precious.
I began to think of my life this way. All those cracks. Could I see them without judgment and instead acknowledge them with compassion? Could I seal them not with rejection but with golden love? Could they become a beautiful part of who I am?
Like my friend, I wonder if I can ever get there. Rumi said, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” Perhaps it is also the place where the light shines forth, if we let it.
Note: You can read about this statue and see more photos here.