Kintsukuroi, or, aging and broken beauty

A friend of mine sent me a quote from Augusten Burroughs, who is not a writer I spend time with. He’s too … dark. I am well aware of the dark pain, and bleakness families can leave as their legacies, but I don’t want to read about it. I still feel cheated that I read Jane Smiley’s (a writer I adore, otherwise) A Thousand Acres. And worse yet, that a friend told me the horrible family in the novel was ‘just like’ her husband’s. TMI!

So I wouldn’t have found this quote on my own, which is almost certainly why M sent it. It has to do with healing, and the broken places within us. I’ve been feeling a bit lost lately, and so my dear friend sent me a lovely quote that says, basically, that ‘broken’ isn’t really broken. We aren’t reeeeaally missing pieces. It just feels that way.

I couldn’t help but think of a couple of Japanese words/concepts. My favourite is kintsukuroi. It’s the repair of a broken bowl, or piece of clay ware, with gold. The idea is, as the picture notes, that the bowl is now more beautiful for having been broken. That to highlight the break is to create an even more beautiful piece of art: to lift the ordinary to the sublime. It’s the logical extension of another favourite Japanese word/idea: wabi-sabi. This one is more familiar to Westerners, with its gentle insistence that imperfection adds to beauty, that what is most beautiful is the vase placed asymmetrically, the tree twisted by wind & age. That a crack in the bowl — especially when repaired w/healing gold — is not a flaw, but an asset.image

This is my newest metaphor for aging. At a workshop I taught the first half of Saturday, we were talking about how difficult aging is, and how few people want to hear about it. That aging isn’t … an attractive topic, for anyone other than those caught in the messy middle of it. And quite often? Even we don’t want to talk about it.

But when you look at aging as the gold holding together the pieces of us (both literal & figurative…) that inevitably chip, even break completely free, in the heavy combat that is daily life over decades? It’s no wonder that the face of a beloved elder can seem as lovely as a bonsai that has bowed to forces greater than itself, but maintained an inner beauty & dignity.

This is not how the West treats age, however. To be old is to be invisible, or ~ even worse ~ treated as a slow child. No wonder old people are often cranky! Our elders are seen as ‘less than,’ lacking. Missing brains, skill sets, who knows what??

No, i reject the whole Western paradigm of age as something to be resisted. Instead? I am going to see my experience(s) for the gold they are, and be grateful they have healed so many of my chipped, even broken, places. What was hard can become something quite lovely. The same way a winding thread of cracks can become a tiny streamlet of gold, that makes untested wholeness suddenly quite ordinary.

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