Everybody ready for the perfect Christmas?
Anybody? Yeah, no, me neither.
No matter how many perfect Christmases we watch at the ends of Hallmark movies and imagine as we listen to programmed carols, holiday perfection is an elusive goal.
Not that knowing stops us from trying. With my brother, it’s wrapping presents—no bags with tissue paper poufing out from the top, no decorated boxes with a precut bow stuck on. Real wrapping paper to tear into, real ribbons to untie or rip off. For my mom, a “heavy appetizers” Christmas Eve meal served between trips to church, as our extended family of 30 years ago provided special music for all three services at Raytown Christian Church.
Me? I want to walk up the silent streets of my husband Terry’s hometown through snowfall and sit in the gazebo in front of the courthouse at midnight and kiss just like we did when we were dating.
But we won’t. Because we have traveled far since those days and, as Ernest Hemingway wrote, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially.”
Christmas celebrates the birth of the “very good and very gentle and the very brave,” so the world broke it early on.
But the Japanese know a great truth about brokenness. They call it “kintsugi,” and it is the Japanese craft of mending ceramics with gold lacquer resin.
Songwriter Peter Mayer describes the process in his song “Japanese Bowl,”
. . . it’s what they’d use back then,
when they had a bowl to mend.
It would not hide the cracks,
It made them shine instead.
So, a broken bowl, something that today we would sweep up and throw away, 15th century Japanese artists made "more beautiful and worth a much higher price.”
Years ago, Terry bought a bowl in Taiwan. A delicate, celadon-glazed, beautiful bowl that was displayed prominently in our home for a long time. Until it was knocked off a table and broken. Terry was sad and distraught at the same time. The person who broke it offered money to replace it, only to learn that Terry had spent a great deal of time picking out the perfect rice bowl from hundreds of options in a Taiwanese gallery and that it really couldn’t be replaced. I swept up the pieces and hid them away.
This summer, I secretly glued them back together. And I have been looking for a goldsmith or a jeweler who will finish the repair, not by hiding it, but by filling the cracks with gold so that the bowl survives, and its brokenness is celebrated. So far, the only kintsugi artist I have found is in Spain. But I keep looking.
Then, last week, Terry told my niece about the loss of the bowl, and she immediately made the connection to the song and suggested it could be repaired. Terry said that there was no way, it was shattered—not just broken. Then I brought the bowl out, glued together, the cracks not yet filled with gold, but lovely in a clearly repaired way.
Terry hasn’t stopped thanking me.
So, I am celebrating real Christmas this year. I am hanging broken ornaments on the tree, I am wrapping presents imperfectly and tying them with homemade, lopsided bows, I am singing the verses I know and la la la-ing through the ones I don’t. I am filling my cracks with gold.
I will spend Christmas with my cracked family. The gold will be my mother Face-timing with those not present. My broken father, who has suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for nine years, will not recognize me or anyone else. The gold will be if he sings with us. Terry and I will not go back to his hometown because there’s no one to visit but the cemetery. The gold is the two of us, together.
Or to put it another way—taking liberties with the meaning of “Namaste”—that which is broken in me will recognize that which is broken in you and in everyone else. And in that I find the perfect beauty of Christmas.
Dear God, remind us that everybody is broken. And that our cracks are going to fill up with something eventually. It might as well be gold. Amen.