When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back.
― Paulo Coelho, The Devil and Miss Prym
Humanity can be callous and wasteful, but we often form attachments to things. Can connecting with sentimentality help encourage awareness?
In this age of technology and mass production, we are accustomed to replacing things as they age and break down. It is usually easier to buy a new item rather than repairing an old one. At the same time, who hasn’t lamented that new products are not made like they used to be, that they break down more quickly or are just plain cheap? There are also those items that have sentimental value for us: grandma’s china, a trinket from a beloved friend or spouse, a piece of art or serving ware picked up while traveling. We don’t like losing these things. Any replacement will lack resonance and memory, which lie not in the form or function of the thing, but in its symbolic value as a connection between us and another person, place, time or culture. Once that connection is broken, we slide farther away from our past and feel a little less grounded. As a person who has been through three floods in my home, I have felt that discomfort and can vouch that it has little to do with materialism. We often say that stuff is “just stuff”. That is true most of the time, but not when it has memory attached to it.
Japanese artisans have a way of memorializing such objects when they are broken. It’s called kintsugi, the art of repairing ceramics with lacquer and gold leaf, elevating them to the level of fine art. They may or may not lose functionality in the process, but they become more precious and gain more significance as symbols. This beautiful film from the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, England gives a marvelous taste of this traditional art form.
The golden connections of kintsugi remind us that relationships and connections are important, that they cannot be replaced. In our pursuit of innovation and excellence, we have to be careful to safeguard and nourish those things that make us human. The synchronicity we find there is worth the time and effort spent.
The next time you break something precious, think about making it into a piece of art. If you need help doing that, there are artisans like the makieshi and disciplines like kintsugi in many cultures. They can enrich your life with symbols, repurposing and elevating what has broken or been worn out. These artisans need the work and our global culture needs the richness they supply. What can be more excellent than honoring our experience and those who have impacted our lives?
The value of the myth is that it takes all the things we know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by ‘the veil of familiarity.’ The child enjoys his cold meat, otherwise dull to him, by pretending it is buffalo, just killed with his own bow and arrow. And the child is wise. The real meat comes back to him more savory for having been dipped in a story…by putting bread, gold, horse, apple, or the very roads into a myth, we do not retreat from reality: we rediscover it.
―C.S. Lewis, “On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature”
I love the way she projects two facets: a visible persona and a subterranean one. She keeps her thoughts to herself; she seems to suggest that her secret, inner life is at least as significant as the appearance she gives.
To read fiction means to play a game by which we give sense to the immensity of things that happened, are happening, or will happen in the actual world. By reading narrative, we escape the anxiety that attacks us when we try to say something true about the world. This is the consoling function of narrative —the reason people tell stories, and have told stories from the beginning of time.