Kintsugi: The Art of Being Whole

I love the Internet. The collection of thoughts from vast swathes of humanity can make the most unexpected connections both serendipitous and sublime.

Sometimes they are explicit: the public conversations of my filter bubble circling around related or juxtaposed ideas.

But more often, I find my curiosity leading me down rabbit holes I didn’t know existed, and after the fact unrelated lines of inquiry weave together into some incendiary tapestry. When ideas meld with supernatural grace it’s like touching heaven.

For example, I read art criticism and history as a hobby. Partly because I have friends in the business and partly because I’m captivated by the idea of making and exploring ephemeral meaning.   (Plus, the sardonic, absurd commentary of The Toast’s Western Art series speaks to me in many levels.)

I don’t study art, I don’t make it, I don’t even really own any. I just like it.

And the same tenuous affinity or plain old curiosity leads me to bone-up on a hodge podge of fields including developmental psychology, graphic design, linguistics, the Internet of things, kitchen chemistry, interior design, education theory, cultural criticism, anthropology, television, unconscious bias, Big Data, narratology and a whole host of seemingly unrelated topics.

And yet, once they are in my neural network, can they ever be unrelated?

But back to art.

Years ago, on an art and design blog, I came across an article about kintsugi.

Literally translated, it means golden joinery, and it’s an ancient Japanese art form of repair which renders the mended more beautiful than the original, essentially gluing cracked ceramics back together with veins of precious metal.

While ancient Japanese pottery is cool, this idea, and the driving force behind the practice, has become a foundational part of my world view.

A way to describe and reconcile my life and our world in times of strife.

When we moved back to America we stayed with my parents for a long time. It was so hard on so many levels. I didn’t know then the growing pains my familial relationships would undergo.

I didn’t know how lonely and sad and homesick I would be returning to a place I no longer knew and rarely understood. Or how painful my sadness and distance would be to those excited and hopeful for our reunion.

I didn’t know how grinding it would be to find a regular, mundane, everyday dynamic with people I was accustomed to seeing once a year in raucous celebration, or how hungry and desperate I would be to belong (and at the expense of myself more often than was wise).

It was the sort of exhausting which doesn’t seem obvious until after the fact, and at the time I would have sworn myself blue I was FINE. 

But one day the cracks were beginning to show. My mom and I were out for coffee in one of my favorite bookstores. It should have been marvelous, having such a small, inconsequential moment to savor together, but we were both walking on glass: stilted, raw, jumpy and sharp.

Nothing clicked, nothing worked, nothing connected, everything hurt.

I remember being annoyed and bored and anxious. I remember feeling judged and exasperated. But I don’t remember what I said (I would probably wish I didn’t if I did anyway).

All I know is she crumpled a little around the eyes, deflating like a soufflé, and said she was afraid. Afraid of my anger, my spite, my disappointment. Afraid I would leave in a bigger way than plane tickets and visas. Afraid she would blow it.

And, suddenly I was flooded with a great deal more than guilt (though plenty of that, too). With years and miles of beautiful, infinite unsaid things I’d accidentally taken for granted.

I squeezed her with my whole self and then began yammering about kintsugi.

About reforging and remaking. About second chances and weathered beauty. About things which are alive because they have lived.

Because I didn’t realize until that moment that she didn’t know.

She didn’t know this bond can’t be broken.

She didn’t know how impossible that even is.

There is no such thing as broken in love like that.

Whatever happens between us can’t sunder anything. Of course there will be chips and cracks. A bowl is made for feasting. But any cracks we make, we will make together and mend together. Proclaiming our scars and our truths with grace. We will change as we change and grow as we grow, and the finished work of ourselves and our love will be more precious and more glorious than gold.

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