Kintsugi: the beauty of brokenness

photo by  Pomax

photo by Pomax

Please welcome our guest writer today, Ben Dench. Ben, like Ed last week, did not lose his daughter as a baby. She was an older child. Yet there are parallels among all us, and the primary image in this piece spoke to us in our shared grief.

Ben writes, “My daughter Ruby died, unexpectedly and suddenly, from a heart attack on May 8th, 2013, whilst away on a school trip. She was 11. She left our arms days previously, happy and carefree. This is an occasional diary about my experiences and reflections as a father to Ruby and her brother, a husband, humanist, mental health nurse and as one of hundreds of people who knew Ruby and was affected by her death. I hope to make some sense of my grief and maybe some sense of others' grief too. Everything changes. Some things more, some things less, but everything changes. Time marches relentlessly on and I have to march with it or give up. Navigation is the key.”

Ben’s is the last installment of our special guest writer series by babylost fathers and fathers grieving the loss of their child.

The Japanese revere Kintsugi, repairing as art—broken pottery is fixed using gold dust mixed with the adhesive to create an improved, stronger, more beautiful artifact elevating it from mass-produced sameness to a priceless and desirable treasure. In and of itself this has a breathtaking beauty and I would encourage everyone to look up Kintsugi pots online. Philosophically the item has been imbued with an enhanced aesthetic and a sense of individualism. It is only itself and resembles nothing else, certainly no other, uncracked, pottery. Its flaws and imperfections are to be embraced as symbolism of the experiences it has survived and that can be celebrated as its strengths. Breakage is not the end, cracks are not flaws but are natural elements in one's lifecycle that prove flexibility of use, embracing change as inevitable and encouraging safe detachment from the non-essential. 

In ideas of personal identity and as a method of highlighting imperfections and the variations of experience, Kintsugi provides us with a framework to consider our own lives- its ups and downs, fragility and sensitivity, brittleness and toughness, fortune and fatalism, creative point and counterpoint, trauma and reparation, equality and difference and a host of other essential aspects of self and others. Kintsugi celebrates this variety and individualism.

Repaired things can be more beautiful and of greater value than unbroken things. With such great potential for transformation our scars can symbolise transcendence and therefore embracing damage, and then celebrating restoration, is a necessary part of life's natural cycle.

Kintsugi also encourages us to admit our fragility. There are times it is acceptable to demand gentle handling due to our delicacy and we should be confident in sophisticated treatment from others. At times we can be translucent and frail maybe as a by-product of compassion or sensitivity—our altruism can make us thin-skinned which, in turn, demands delicate handling from others. We should be treated with tenderness not because we were poorly made or because we are already broken but because we should be allowed to demand a response to our mature fragility that is respectful, moral and based on equality. This is a human duty we can assume from others and which should be afforded from us in return.

Kintsugi reminds us of our mortality. As Seneca stated, "It is not that we have a short time to live but that we waste a lot of it." Nothing is eternal. And if we are not eternal what should we do with the time we have? Maybe we can start by appreciating scars as a sign of life lived adventurously or of grief endured.

How have you make brokenness part of your life? Do you share your scars—wear them with some manner of pride—or do you hide them?