Perhaps not surprisingly, our matriarch’s 95th birthday celebration morphed into a time of “family archeology” the other day.
No one who knows (and cherishes) my Mama would be surprised at this. She is a woman of many diverse gifts, with that of “storyteller” chief among them. Countless are the times when she’s regaled us with tales of her adventures through the decades – often co-starring members of the family, but just as often involving her longtime friends and co-conspirators.
On this occasion, it was a piece of pottery that touched off the recollection – an earthen vessel that has been a part of her home décor for as long as any of us can remember.
In some respects, it’s an unremarkable vase: brownish in tone, not brilliant…suited for corner-of-the-room duty, never a centerpiece. So it came as a surprise to most how deeply she regretted its apparent demise – victim to a gust of wind that toppled it onto the concrete of her apartment’s balcony a few months back.
Ah, but there’s a story behind the stoneware. This, we learned in affectionate detail when the artistically-repaired pot was returned to her as a birthday gift fashioned by my Sweetie and our daughter.
It seems the vase was itself a replacement for another piece Mom had once loved – beautiful glassware (a wedding gift? a honeymoon souvenir?) that suffered a tragic fate when I was but a babe-in-arms. That’s the story she told: how once upon a time she was nursing me, and my big brother – then a two-year-old – came into the room and started patting me on the head. Soon enough, his pats turned into jealousy-induced smacks, and Mom quickly moved to defend her infant with her free arm – knocking over (and destroying) her beautiful vase in the process.
But some months later, love came to the rescue, when our Dad took Mom to the opening of a local art gallery and urged her to buy anything that caught her eye, to help heal the wound left in the heart of a young (but outnumbered) mother – just doing her best to care for the two tots in her home.
Now, if you knew my Dad, you’d know he didn’t necessarily consider “investment in the arts” to be money well-spent. Indeed, he was never a big fan of spending money, any money, in the first place. So when I heard Mom sharing the story of Dad’s long-ago largesse, I readily understood why she considered the recently broken pot such a loss.
Broken, but now resurrected. This is the very essence of kintsugi – a Japanese artistic technique, “golden joinery.” Through it, seemingly useless shards are brought back together with adhesives and gold.
Kintsugi teaches us that even though things may be damaged, they are still valuable and have meaning.
At first glance, this seems a different lesson entirely than the one Jesus has in mind for us on the penultimate Sunday of the liturgical year. Jesus notices how those around him seem enthralled by material things – in particular, the glory of Herod’s Temple. In the next breath, he cautions them not to grow attached to the stuff of this world.
“All that you see here – the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”
Yes, all we see and touch and admire will eventually come tumbling down. But in Christ, there is hope. In loving him…in clinging to him…we are taught what’s truly valuable: “By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”
I’d say this is a lesson that the three generations of women in my family know well. I’ve come to see that each of them exudes a kintsugi spirit, willing to acknowledge and embrace brokenness if and when it occurs. And then, without bitterness, they work to mend it…ever in a spirit of Christ’s love and mercy and grace.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.
What a dear story. I made some kintsugi works last year. Broken but even made more beautiful by the gold scars. I really liked the work they did. Lovely.