Kintsugi in Japanese means “golden joinery.” It refers to the art of repairing broken ceramics with a lacquer resin made to look like solid gold. Chances are that a vessel repaired by a kintsugi master will look more gorgeous and more precious than before.
Why am I telling you about the Japanese art of kintsugi and what has it to do with the mysterious connection between a broken vase and the miracle of life?
Here is my story:
One day coming home after being away for the week-end we found the following note on our kitchen counter:
“Dear Schleifers, We may be in contention of the dubious title – worst house guest ever…”
The note was from Barbara and Michael, a couple we did not know, to whom we had lent our apartment so they could celebrate the Bat Mitzvah of family members, who belong to our prayer community.
The note continues:
“Within 30 seconds of walking into your beautiful apartment, my husband knocked over this vase. We were frantic….We are both terribly sorry and terribly appreciative. In other words – we feel terrible!”
Prior to returning home, our son Yigal told us:
“When you come in you might notice a difference in the vase. It broke. But I did my best to fix it.”
What touched us the most was the spirit with which our son tackled the task. He took deep pleasure in doing it. He said: “I felt like an archeologist. I loved doing it.”
This is exactly the spirit of kintsugi, the embracing of the flawed or the imperfect. It is a rationale for keeping an object around even after it has broken, and even highlighting the cracks and repairs as simply an event of the life of an object.
Kintsugi relates to the Japanese philosophy of “mushin” literally translated as “no mind.” It encompasses the concept of existing within the moment, with the acceptance of change and fate as aspects of human life, an “equanimity amid changing conditions.”
Here is what Christy Bartlett says about kintsugi in her book Flickwerk: The Aesthetic of Mended Japanese Ceramics:
“Not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally illuminated, a kind of physical expression of the spirit of “mushin.” The vicissitudes of existence over time, to which all humans are susceptible, could not be clearer than in the breaks and knocks to which ceramic ware is subject.”
When I called Barbara to thank her for the gift certificate she had sent so we could replace the vase, I told her that we would not replace the vase. Rather we would keep it to remind us of the generous spirit of our son Yigal.
Only then, at that very moment, did I realize the mysterious connection between the broken vase and the miracle of life.
When Yumi got very sick some years ago, and he came close to the edge between life and death, our son Yigal told us the following:
“Mom and Dad, the two of you have been independent and invincible until now. But now you are vulnerable and dependent. Please accept my offer to come to our family home, so that Rachel and I and the kids can take care of you. Come live with us for a while, and let us care for you completely.”
With the same spirit that he mended the brokenness of the vase, he let us know about our own brokenness, and mobilized to assist in the repair. Today Yumi is alive and well, and just like a vessel with kintsugi, Yumi is more gorgeous and more precious than before he was fractured.
We are deeply grateful to our son Yigal and his family for the generosity of spirit, the joyful hospitality and the abundant kindness with which they welcomed us in our brokenness, and then assisted us in the process of repair. The “kintsugi vase,” displayed in our home, is now a continuous reminder of the miracle of Yumi’s remarkable recovery, and of our fervent commitment to exist within the moment, welcoming the cracks and repairs of life as the gift that they truly are.