"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places." These words are often attributed to the American writer Ernest Hemingway.
In fact, he said something a little different and meant something entirely different. I thought about it recently while admiring a display of kintsugi pottery at a gallery in Tokyo, Japan.
BROKEN, NOT WORTHLESS
Kintsugi ("golden joinery") is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer mixed with gold or silver.
In contrast to other repair methods, where the objective is to render cracks and breaks invisible, kintsugi makes a feature of them.
A kintsugi bowl will look like a regular bowl streaked with gold or silver seams.
The underlying principles of kintsugi are twofold. First, the fact that something has been broken does not necessarily make it worthless or even any less valuable.
Second, cracks and breaks are part of the unique history of an object and are best highlighted rather than disguised, celebrated rather than deplored.
If this sounds odd, imagine that you have a beautiful vase that has been in your family for generations. One day, your baby gets her hands on it and smashes it into a dozen pieces. What can you do?
Well, you can throw away the broken pieces, and lose the beauty and history of the vase forever. Or you can repair it the kintsugi way, enhance its beauty and have a permanent and touching reminder of your daughter's childhood.
In kintsugi, every golden seam is a commemoration and celebration of an object's history.
THE KINTSUGI LIFE
In fact, the kintsugi philosophy applies not only to pottery but also to life.
When we were young, we cherished the notion of leading perfect lives one day. We saw ourselves accomplishing beautiful things and enjoying wonderful relationships.
But, as time passes, our hopes and dreams get cracked or shattered. Does this strike a chord with you?
If so, look back upon your life. Think of the heartaches and disappointments you have suffered, and the heartaches and disappointments you have caused.
Nothing can change things. The question is, what will you do about it? Will you bemoan and regret it, and regard yourself as inferior goods? Or will you accept it as part of your history, learn from it and move on?
The choice is yours. But the only sensible choice - the only one that will make life better for you and for the people you love - is to accept it, learn from it and move on.
In the past, you had no idea how challenging life can be. But now, you know.
In the past, you knew no better than to make foolish mistakes. But now, you do.
You are a little wiser and a little sadder, but wiser nonetheless.
The new you may be cracked and broken. But even so, with a kintsugi attitude, you can make the new you a better you.
As Epictetus wrote: "Don't demand or expect that events happen as you would wish them to. Accept events as they actually happened. That way, peace is possible."
• Gary Hayden is a science and technology writer.
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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