The ancient Japanese art of kintsugi takes broken pottery and makes it whole again – not by trying to hide its brokenness – but by celebrating it. After the piece is put back together, powdered gold or silver is applied to the cracks, “transforming what was an accident into a glorious rebirth,” as Bonnie Kemske, author of Kintsugi: The Poetic Mind, says.
Could there be a better metaphor for this time and how we might choose to think of it? Undoubtedly, we are broken right now. As individuals, as a country, as a species, as a planet. Nothing is as it was. And nothing will ever be as it was before. We’re not “going back to normal”. Our children will be forever changed because of this time. Likewise, our government, the way we construct our days, what work life looks like, how we gather together, what we value, who we are will be forever changed by this time, which we’re still living through.
Instead of trying to mask the changes, the loss, the grief, the adaptations – why not celebrate who we are becoming and the resilient new creatures we’re turning into because of the challenges we’ve faced – and continue to face?
Today, while leading my (I don’t know – 200th-something? – Zoom yoga class) Zoom would not cooperate. My computer would not cooperate. The internet would not cooperate. These are things over which I have no control. I went on doing what I do know how to do, taking charge of the few things over which I do have control. I know how to breathe, to show up, to be present, to continue to practice yoga. And I have to say, after doing this now for nearly a year, it was not that big a deal. “Oh well,” my nervous system said. “Nothing to be done. Carry on.”
A year ago, that would not have been my response. A year ago, I would have panicked. But this pandemic has meant struggle. For everyone. Even for those, like myself, who have had a relatively easy time of it. No one has escaped struggle. And struggle builds character.
We are all beautiful kintsugi masterpieces in-the-making. For some of us, it may feel like our shards are still lying in a heap on the floor. For others, this may be a blessed moment of wholeness. But none of us is ‘complete’. Our world is still breaking every day. In Atlanta, in Boulder… Or an unexpected phone call comes, or a check does not arrive, or the internet fails, or something does not go according to plan…
Our pieces come together for a time and then another piece unexpectedly shatters. The breaking and the putting back together continues day after day. But if we can choose not to hide our ‘glorious imperfections’ from ourselves and from one another, but to celebrate them, to rejoice in the people we are becoming, not despite these struggles but because of them – this time will not have been wasted. Our lives will not have been diverted. We are not lost. We are instead, then, becoming exactly who and what we are meant to be: beautiful works of art made more beautiful by the gold and silver curings of this year.
Let’s honor our broken places by acknowledging the learnings that are coming from them, even now. They are not what define us, but what transform us.