I never wanted formal china when I got married in 2001~~I wasn't a fancy gal and it just seemed like a waste when what we really needed were items for our new (well, really, old~~it was built in 1846) home. But when my mom was able to score 12 settings of plain white plates with narrow silver rims at her church rummage sale, I was thrilled. Everything was there~~from salad plates to a gravy boat~~and they were just my simple style. We used the special tableware for holidays, but it wasn't easy ... hauling them out of the built-in cupboard my husband upgraded, using them gently during the meal, then hand washing them afterwards before arranging them carefully once again behind the glass door. I found myself favoring the colorful, mismatched Fiestaware(R) we used for every day, and the white china ended up spending more and more time in that cupboard.
So I was grateful when my daughter-in-law said she'd take the dishes. I'd wrap and box them up for their journey to their new home in Okinawa, a few pieces at a time, where my stepson is stationed in the Air Force. When one box would arrive, I'd send another. We had a good thing going~~and a perfect no-breakage record~~until a serving bowl arrived in pieces. I felt awful. I figured it was due to my sloppy packaging (I was getting a little lazy with my frequent select~wrap~box routine) but Lindsey blamed the package handlers along the way. In any case, I thought the piece would be unusable.
Until I remembered kintsugi. This traditional Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold lacquer goes beyond the fix itself. The idea behind kintsugi is that the break is part of the piece's life story. It serves to highlight the break in the bowl, rather than hide it. The crack then becomes something to celebrate.
As a cancer survivor sporting a hefty scar where my right breast used to be, I've become as enamored with the idea of kintsugi as ceramic collectors who supposedly damaged their fine pieces just to have them repaired this way. Oh sure, at first I was worried about being lopsided and imperfect after my mastectomy~~I was small~breasted before and now this? But I've somehow come to appreciate the uneven surface on my right side, and the fine, white line that~~at its center~~reminds me of a snow-capped mountain. It illustrates my history: I had a breast. Then I had it removed. Simple, really, once all the emotion falls away from it.
Those Japanese? They know their stuff. Kintsugi is similar to the Japanese philosophy of wabi~sabi. Besides being fun to say, wabi~sabi gives us permission to accept the transient, the imperfect, the asymetrical. It embraces the aging, and transcends the purely physical. Where the heck do I sign up?
The kids are busy preparing to leave their tropical island paradise in a few months, but luckily kintsugi supplies are readily available online these days so I'm hoping Lindsey has the chance to try her hand at the process in the future. My favorite memory of that china is hand washing each piece with my tweenaged stepson one Thanksgiving after my husband got called in to work and his family retreated to their own homes. I stored the leftovers and ran the soapy sponge while he dried and put everything away. We chatted, listened to the radio, fell silent. It felt good just to be together like that. Now those dishes live in his kitchen cabinet, soon to be crated up for their return to the States.
In addition to stirring up memories of that November day, that china reminds me of the importance of using the special things we have when we can, and not saving them for that "perfect" occasion. Because someday they'll change~~they'll wear with age, and maybe even break. But then it's time to enjoy them in a different way, appreciating their golden rebirth.
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