A dear friend and I were texting about holiday gifts this year, and she shared that for 2020 she was giving wabi-sabi. I misread her text and thought she had typed wasabi and was envisioning rows of bottled spicy horseradish paste (with bows on top). But she corrected me. She wanted to give the gift of wabi-sabi, a Japanese philosophy that identifies the beauty found in imperfection.
Her plan was to engage in kintsugi, a technique for repairing broken, yet cherished pottery. This art was believed to have begun around the 15th century:
Rather than rejoin ceramic pieces with a camouflaged adhesive, the Kintsugi technique employs a special tree sap lacquer dusted with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. Once completed, beautiful seams of gold glint in the conspicuous cracks of ceramic wares, giving a one-of-a-kind appearance to each “repaired” piece.
Ceramics, broken yet beautiful, with their “seams of gold”, were what my friend wanted to create and give. How perfect for 2020.
This year has felt incredibly broken. Many of us have experienced cracks in our lives that have grown deeper throughout the recent months. I can’t help but believe that these cracks, often invisible to the naked eye, are well represented by a fragmented vase or serving bowl. We might have been dealt multiple blows this year, but as kintsugi demonstrates to us, we are not without the power to use these blows to become strong and even more valuable. I’m reminded of Victor E. Frankl who said, Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
I know that Frankl was not talking about kintsugi in his quote. But I find the two incredibly connected. Our stimulus has been the harsh realities of 2020. And now we find ourselves with a space. Similar to kintsugi, Frankl recognizes a metaphorical gold that can fill in and repair the space between fractures and the crushing blows of life: a space where we can (often with help from others) victoriously pull ourselves back together and gain freedom from our pain. But not just the minor pain: the gut-wrenching physical and mental pain.
And like the kintsugi process, or really most processes, it may take some time. And like broken teacups, we can survive and develop with a splendor that surpasses our original being. And like a kintsugi piece of pottery, our breaks can make us golden.