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I’m broken—at least that’s what it feels like.
I feel like I’ve broken myself into shards, and I’m not sure where all the pieces are, whether they’ve poked anyone in the eyeball, how to ask for them back, or how to put myself back together.
And once I am put back together, how do I smooth over all of the cracks so no one knows that I was ever flawed?
I got into a Google loop the other day whilst laying on the couch for the 47th straight hour last weekend. I wear listlessness well. What can I say? When there are too many imaginary reasons to mentally flog myself, sometimes my brain escapes into the numbness of solving the Jonbenet Ramsey case while eating a Klondike Bar. It’s my process.
Somehow, though, I came across one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in a long time, and like all beauty, it presented itself exactly the moment I needed to see it.
I’m not sure if it still happens (I mean who has time for this?), but way back when, the Japanese would do this thing when something they valued had become broken: they would repair the flaws with gold.
It’s called Kintsugi.
They would celebrate something having lived through a trauma without the grief of having attachment to what it was supposed to have been. They believed that a well-used life should be highlighted, and so the stories of each broken piece and their marriage to the next one would be shared generation to generation.
Can you imagine?
We have been so busy putting spackle on our country’s trauma-cracks in an effort to sell this beat-up place to the rest of the world, that we haven’t tried getting out the gold leaf and sharing our story of survival and remembrance with those who will come after us—which means they’ll never learn from our accidents.
Why is it that we believe the only things that should be shared are the pristine? Why is it that we duck our heads in shame the second we believe we’re not perfect?
And who defined that benchmark for us anyway?
My grandmother would have thought “distressed” furniture was for the people who lived “below the canal.” Or maybe it was “above the canal.” I don’t remember, and it doesn’t matter, because all of those families live together in Sycaway now anyway.
So here you are with your little broken Japanese bowl of a soul, resealed, mismatched, and highlighted with a spiderweb of epoxy holding it together.
With the cracks healed in gold, the bowl is now a new thing of its own. It’s not a just a repaired bowl, it has become something else entirely without definition.
“That’s hot,” as the great 21st century philosopher, Paris Hilton, once said in 2005.
And, as I’m writing this in my living room, I’m looking at a mosaic Turkish lamp that I love. Its beauty, by definition, comes from a million broken pieces of glass, stitched together into art. Someone else has actually put a price tag on the beauty of this lamp, but to have been built, someone had to break glass first. I’m just saying…
The Japanese love this stuff. They even have a name for it: wabi-sabi. It’s the art of seeing beauty in the imperfect.
They go even further (the Japanese are so extra) by insisting that nothing should be wasted, that nothing is actually flawed—they call this emotion “mottainai.” And once the bowl is repaired, they rely on their deep well of “mushin,” or the acceptance of change.
It’s almost too much.
Can you even imagine the idea of just acceptance? The possibility that you’re not damaged goods? Or that you’re not broken beyond the possibility of repair? That you’re not someone who has to settle for being loved, even with your broken edges, but to be loved because of them?
And, if that wasn’t enough, get this: in this whole Kintsugi thing, they sometimes take broken bits from another piece whose shards fit your damage perfectly.
Imagine if your broken and jagged edges had a broken and jagged puzzle piece somewhere that when slapped together with a little gold made you even better than before?
Isn’t that nice sounding? Thank you, thousands of years of Japanese tradition and culture, because holy tiny baby Jesus do I love a giant metaphor. I love the idea of not having to smooth out my jaggedness in order for someone to fit in there perfectly.
There’s another part of this, though. It’s not just about having broken edges and finding a way to glue yourself back together.
It’s about the glue. It can’t be all gold—that’s not strong enough to hold things together, no matter how shiny and appealing. And it can’t be all adhesive, because it’s too rigid and stiff and becomes brittle as time wears on.
It’s sometimes a real hunt for the perfect jagged little shard and the perfect mix of glue and fold—an experiment with the right mixture of glamour and substance—and then we have to allow for time to tell us whether things will stay put.
We don’t dream of the acceptance of our cracks, or for the excitement of the sharing of our stories, do we? We dream each night and most of our days of perfection. A perfection that we haven’t ourselves defined, and that feels as uncomfortable as wearing shoes too small.
What hurts is not the broken bowl, or the broken relationship, or the broken idea that you don’t look the way she looks on Instagram…what hurts are those too-small shoes we were told we had to wear to be complete.
What hurts is the piling up of the broken pieces, pretending they’re not, then covering them up and trying to sell the whole thing to someone else as Waterford crystal.
Our chronic perfectionism makes us take on debt to remove hair and add breasts. It tells us that the bigger car/house/boat/vacation will hide all of our cracks. It makes us settle in relationships that don’t feel like home. It shuts us off from the world when we tell ourselves that we are supposed to feel happy. We preserve perfection in monogrammed towels and ornaments and social media pages as if that will keep things from rotting.
We refuse to acknowledge that the cracks and breaks are important. That our cracks are gorgeous, and our story is the sole reason anyone wants to be near us ever.
I’ll leave us all with this completely infuriating and unsatisfying thought: we do all have a story.
We’re all cracked, and those are our stories. And the person who will be “your person,” by the way, is the one that wants to see your crack.
We’ve all been broken. Sometimes we break ourselves, sometimes someone breaks us. Sometimes our shards seem too sharp for anyone to hold us. Sometimes it’s almost like we’ve been broken so much that there’s nothing left but dust.
And that’s the point.
Our piles of rough edges are beautiful for their brokenness—and for our renewal. Not one piece of the story should be thrown away. Nothing is wasted.
We should be so lucky to be cracked, because it means we have lived a real life.
So…let me see your crack, sometime.