The Crack in Everything

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Last week, I nearly had a melt down when the formatting in my 286 blog postings unexpectedly disappeared. This relatively trivial problem triggered something that kept me up all night questioning the meaning of life. What am I doing here? Why? Who cares? This is not my usual thing. Even while it was happening, I knew my existential angst was not about formatting.

After I calmed down, I remembered “kintsugi,” one of my favorite Japanese traditions.  Kintsugi is a an ancient method of repairing broken bowls with gold. Like most things in Japan, however, kintsugi is not just about bowl repair. It’s a metaphor for repairing ourselves in ways that make us better than the original.

Most of us are at least a little broken by the events of 2020 — the pandemic, the natural disasters, the demonstrations and economic hardship, the attacks on vulnerable people and our democracy. Kintsugi tells us to create beauty from the damage.

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So then I thought about some of the ways we can practice kintsugi even as troubles surround us:

                        Gratitude — Albert Einstein said “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” My friend Robby expresses gratitude in practically every sentence, no matter how many challenges are in front of her. She reminds me of the miracles.

                       Celebrating imperfections — Native Americans believe we should not even strive for perfection because only god is perfect. In that spirit, their handmade rugs always include a “mistake.” Dents in cars, a bad day at work, something I said that was really insensitive — evidence of our humanity. Imperfections invite us to consider our priorities, and to be forgiving and forgiven.

                       Helping Others — The pandemic has brought some of us closer to family and friends. But the ways we connect with people outside our close circles also contribute to powerful feelings of a bigger belonging. My sister recently gave her neighborhood UPS driver $100 to acknowledge the risks he is taking to provide service. My friends in Mexico talk about how connected they feel when they help their Mexican neighbors get through this difficult time. I keep seeing, “we are all in this together.” “This” is everything and “we” is everyone.

Shoreline at Fort Point, San Francisco

                       Focusing on something bigger than ourselves —  Viktor Frankl wrote Man’s Search for Meaning to describe the transformation he experienced as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. Among his many profound observations is that “…happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself…” The cause might be community service, science, grandchildren, teaching, art — anything, as long as it’s not, you know, you.

And I thought about the things in my life that help me feel kintsugi:

Art. Art is a universal language that helps us identify with struggles and joys of all humans. Here is a painting by Marc Chagall that combines Christian and Jewish motifs to express the idea of redemption and the vindication of the world’s evils. I especially love the references to music and animals.

The Falling Angel, Marc Chagall, 1947

Nature. My friend, Kathy, recently invited me to spend a few days at her house in the Sierras. During my visit, our hikes reminded me of the power of the wilderness to help us escape monkey mind and feel connected to something bigger.

Granite Lake near Kirkwood Meadows

Music. Scientists don’t know why music so profoundly affects our minds and our spirits. Leonard Cohen is one of my favorites when I want to hear a deeper, more complicated story.

Ultimately, my formatting problem was a good thing. I realized how I have become too attached to something I have been doing for six years, and how doing something new could be liberating. After that, my friend John fixed the formatting, but I am still thinking about trying something new.

Shoreline at Cesar Chavez Park, Berkeley, CA

24 comments

  1. This is one of- if not THE- most beautiful, evocative and meaningful posts you’ve made Kim. Took my breathe away. Thank you.

  2. Thanks for your inspiring and uplifting post, Kim. I love the Japanese philosophy of kintsugi: to create beauty from the damage. There is no shortage of damage in our world today. Your suggestions for practicing kintsugi would, without a doubt, go a long way in bringing beauty and light into our broken lives.

  3. Thank you so mitch, Kim, for reminding us. This is such a hard moment in our lives to navigate, we need to come back to what’s really important. That’s what teshuvah, repentance, means – comme back to what you know is right.

    Thank you again. You’re maybe imperfect, but you’re quite something in this tough passage.

  4. I’ve had a blog for a few years but never found much time to write. Covid has changed that and blogging has become one of the lights that is getting through the cracks. Thanks for the post. Good to be reminded of Cohen’s song and eternal wisdom.

    1. I completely understand how writing can be one of the lights. I started my blog when I was traveling, mostly alone, and my writing became a companion and a way to make me more observant. Now, it sometimes helps make sense of things! I will check yours out!

      1. This fall, I had been planning to sign up for the MasterClass online series and take a few classes from writers that I admire. But, getting my blog off the ground makes me realize, I don’t have time for that right now. However, if you are looking to inject new ideas/techniques into your writing and/or find other opportunities for growth, you might want to check it out.

  5. Earlier in the summer I got into building “Bob” tables in between maintenance and home improvements. This particular folding table design has been around a long time but best buddy Bob introduced them to me and now Bob is gone, robbed of life by Alzheimer’s. Recently we watched the new Sound of Music and in the scene in the monastery I saw one of those tables. I built three of them, one a prototype, the second for a woodworking friend and the third out of pieces of my 83 year old Spidsgatter (Danish sail boat) removed when I was restoring her. The top is made of the old quarter panels, the cabin sections on either side of the companionway. They were full of holes from old mountings, compass, depth sounder and who knows what. They are original Honduras Mahagany pieces with tons of character. One is badly split and I thought about kintsugi while putting it all together. I still hope I can find some gold or silver leaf to press into the crack, which at this point is epoxy glue with mahogany sawdust mixed in. Still, it is a veneration of the wood and the masters before me, the ancient ones and dear Bob and I love it.

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