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Kintsugi - The Art of Broken Pieces

Kintsugi is a Japanese practice of mending broken pottery with gold or silver lacquer. The practice is related to Japanese philosophy which sees beauty in the flawed or imperfect, expresses regret when something is wasted, and the acceptance of change. Every repaired piece is unique because of the randomness with which it shattered and the different cracks that were formed upon repair. Remade into the same but different piece. Kintsugi is a way to cope with traumatic events and heal in a positive way, not only for the pottery but for our spirit.

I participated in a Kintsugi workshop a day after Ian's birthday on that odd phenomenon known as February 29th. It was held in a small lodge, deep in the woods. Snow had fallen that morning and it was a peaceful drive through the trees down a one-lane road. The other five participants were already there waiting for me. I would like to note that I was not late, but merely on time.

The workshop began and we shared what had brought each of us there that day. There was a little meditation. There was lavender tea and a hammer alongside our perfect pottery bowl. There was reflection on how we felt about the impending breakage of our bowl and how it related to our life.

I shared that up until Ian developing his addiction and dying, I felt that my life had been pretty perfect. When I hit the bowl, my hope was that there would only be one break to reflect that. Alternatively, I was also worried that I would release my inner fury and smash it to smithereens.

It was time to break our bowls. I wrapped mine with the cloth napkin as instructed. On three, we all hit our bowls with the hammers. Nothing happened to mine, along with a few others. The instructor said that sometimes it takes a 2nd try. We unsuccessful people hit our bowls again, using a little more force. Everyone else had been successful, but only one little piece had chipped off of mine. What the heck?!

As everyone quietly looked on, I hit it again with even more force. Nothing. I had only wanted one break, but this was ridiculous. I came here to put something back together. Someone gave me their hammer to try, because it had to be the hammer's fault, right? I whacked it again with the new hammer and it smashed to smithereens. I had received both of my wishes. Ian was in the room with me.

I unwrapped my bowl and wanted to cry because it was so destroyed in parts. I had no idea how I would put it back together. I picked up two of what I thought to be the easiest pieces to start with and used the glue to put them back together. This seemed like the easy part. In actuality, it is the part that requires the most patience and discipline. You can't just jam the pieces together and hope they will stick. Even Gorilla glue won't mend them if the edges aren't perfectly aligned. Once aligned, you have to hold it together and wait. Breathing helps. I was impressed with my patience.

I continued the repair, working on a few of the bigger pieces, then moving on to the smaller ones as I gained confidence in what I was doing. The base of the bowl was the most damaged with the smallest of the pieces centered there. Some areas of the base had been reduced to dust and there was no way to reconnect them. Holes would have to remain there.

Once the bowl was put back together the best that I could, it was time to paint over those cracks with gold. Unfortunately, we had to use paint and not real gold. I left a small chip unpainted, because why not? Since I had so many pieces I had to reconnect, I was way behind everyone else. I didn't stress and didn't hurry while I focused on my bowl and what I was doing. Everyone patiently waited for me until I encouraged them to keep going to the next steps without me. I'd catch up at some point.

My bowl, in the Kintsugi way, ended up beautiful in a different way than the original. It is now holding a violet plant, which is Ian's birth month flower. If you look at the outside of the bowl, it doesn't look too bad - a chip that isn't gold-covered, some cracks - but it looks pretty whole again and is functional. If you touch the bowl, it does wobble a bit since the base is no longer steady. If you are able to look inside, you will find that it has more damage than is visible from the outside. Some holes will always be there.

The workshop was healing for me. Ian would have loved it (except the sharing part) - always seeming to have had a connection with Japanese culture and people throughout his life. The bowl is obviously a metaphor for my grief journey this past year. I'll never be whole again. I am still working on painting the cracks and I will continue to try and find the gold in my broken pieces.

イアンのお母さん ~ Ian's Mom

Originally posted March 7, 2020

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