The Japanese have an awesome way with broken things. Their 500 year old art of kinsugi or ‘golden joinery’ restores broken objects, using a silver or platinum laquer. They don’t pretend something isn’t damaged; they repair it with gold leaf to enhance, not hide the breaks. A piece that was priceless becomes more so. To the Japanese, the spiritual background or history of the piece is what is important making the piece more beautiful for having been broken. This belief is woven from their philosophy of wabi-sabi, meaning to ‘find beauty in broken things’. Wow. How much more are we, who have been broken by loss, disappointment, and other life crises, deserving of a little gold leaf – or a lot.
I’m not saying everything in us can be healed. Like make-up, even gold leaf can’t make devastated pretty. There’s nothing that make losing a mother too early, a child ever or a spouse suddenly – ‘okay’. That pain can never be erased; maybe it can never be completely healed. Some things just can’t be ‘fixed’. That kind of broken leaves us irrevocably altered. All we can do is try to patch our lives as best we can, and bear witness. If a bit of gold leaf helps do that, definitely gild the broken.
We are not less because we are broken. Our torn places are testament to our history. To elevate the cracks, the painful scars on our spirit, is to reincarnate the spirit of the person who is no longer here.
Real estate has a cutesy name for a house that needs a boatload of work – handyman special. I suspect the only people who get warm fuzzies from this term are those who love a challenge – as well as their hammer and drills. Sometimes I love to DIY broken or time-worn challenges, though not always successfully, especially if they required a drill. Still, I try.
People, however, are a different story. Sometimes we are the most broken of all and though we can be patched up, even well repaired, the memory of the break remains as well as the scars. Yet, until you’re broken, and most people are at some point in their lives, you don’t really know what you’re made of. But that knowing is important, even necessary, before you can gather the tools you need to build yourself up again. With most life experiences, being flexible helps. Adaptability may keep us from completely breaking apart but there are no guarantees. When knee-capping loss comes calling, you can still break into a million pieces but it’s how you put the pieces back together that matters.
Those with cancer undergo devastating effects from drugs that are given to hopefully cure them. They lose their hair; become bone-shattering tired. Yet some courageous survivors take their spirit to tattoo parlors. There, in a unique version of their own ‘kintsugi’, their scars are transformed into beautiful designs, courageous badges of what they’ve been through and come through.
Ever get annoyed with a box of broken crayons? I know, it’s hard to remember when crayons were your first choice of writing instrument. But, if you can envision that iconic box of Crayola having a minor accident that left it less than pristine, what would you do? Pitch the broken ones? Try to tape them up? Or, were you the creative one who morphed them together to form brilliant new hues? Broken crayons still color – they just do it differently. When you fuse the waxy sticks together, their melted colors become even more unique.
Look closely at a mosaic and you’ll never think of broken the same way again. A mosaic, like life, is made of a multitude of disjointed, ragged pieces. Though none may match or seemingly fit together, when they are joined in a mosaic, they create what is often a breathtaking piece of art. “A mosaic,” writes Terry Tempest Williams, “is a conversation between what is broken.” Unexpected, free, and sometimes incredibly stunning, the leftover pieces form their own entity. Broken can become its own kind of beautiful.
‘Grief is like surfing.” Brene Brown explains. “Sometimes you feel steady and you’re able to ride the waves, and other times the surf comes crashing down on you, pushing you so far underwater that you’re sure you’ll drown. Like grief, the longings come out of nowhere and can be triggered by something you didn’t even know mattered”. Reading those words, I can’t help but think of Bethany Hamilton, the intrepid surfer who lost an arm, and almost her life, to a shark. Her body, as well as the dream of riding the wave to the top of her profession, was shattered but her spirit was not. She was anatomically broken — yet became better than she ever dreamed.
Every day, we can be standing right next to someone who’s as broken as we’ve been. We may not see it; they may not show it. Robin Williams knew that all too well. He once said that “All it takes is a beautiful fake smile to hide an injured soul and they will never notice how broken you really are’. But, like a broken rib, you feel it every time you breath in and out.
All the gold leaf in the world won’t repair or make the broken completely new. The point is – we shouldn’t want to. We have lived the pain, the loss and the broken and bear witness both to what is lost by our presence and by reaching out to others just as shattered. The trick is to be broken and whole at the same time. Some wounds leave an indelible mark; clues to what has happened in our lives. The cuts and cracks are chapters in a much bigger tale. It’s not easy to recognize the beauty of what remains, especially when we’ve barely begun to put the jagged pieces back together. And some fissures are harder to repair than others. At some point, we become more valuable for our experiences, and even stronger in the places we’ve been broken. The broken becomes beautiful.
Just like you.