About ten years ago, on a camping trip, I caught the little toe of my left foot on a rock when I was messing about in a river. Nature had provided a slide in the form of a long rock rendered smooth from thousands of years of water running over it. Taking turns, we would swoosh down, body straight like a log, before slithering out onto the bank, and running back up for more. “Keep to the centre,” K. called to me (too late) as I veered towards the river’s edge where I caught my wee toe. It hurt, but I pushed myself back out to the deeper area of rushing water and was carried on by the exhilaration of the ride. It was only when I emerged onto the riverbank that I realised I’d been injured. Not only was the toe swollen and turning blue (I had broken it), but I had also managed to remove my toenail in one clean extraction. Initially I was a lot more alarmed by how it looked – there’s nothing attractive about a bloodied nail bed – but when the throbbing kicked in I began to worry about how I would keep it clean for the rest of the camping trip. It turned out that one of the party had brought something I hadn’t seen before or since: spray-on plaster. It stings like mad for 20 seconds but was incredibly effective at sealing the wound until I got back to civilisation a few days later. The bruising went down, the break sorted itself out (the toe is crooked and a little chunkier than its twin on my right foot, but only I notice) and the nail grew back, thick and strong. It’s really hard to cut now, mostly I need to file it, but you could say it’s better than ever.
I’m reading a book by Madeleine L’Engle about arts and creativity. She has a great line where she advises that one should, “tell a story so that the message doesn’t show like a slip hanging below the hem of a dress.” And I know my slip is hanging well below my hem, but I’ll fix it tomorrow. In the meantime, my very obvious message is one of letting our wounds heal and having faith that we’ll be left stronger and wiser. My newly grown toenail, I can see; I have clear evidence that it’s stronger. As for my invisible wounds, I have no hard evidence, but I know that time and various forms of metaphorical emotional spray-on plaster has helped to heal them.
‘Kintsugi’ is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer mixed with powdered gold or silver so that the pieces are stuck back together with sparking shards that look like fork lightning shining through. The technique is said to date back centuries to a time when a wealthy Shōgun dropped and broke his favourite teacup and sent it to be repaired. Instead of the usual ugly and impractical metal clips that were used, an inventive Japanese craftsman came up with the lacquered resin and powdered gold and silver solution to make it whole again. In Japan, there is an understanding that these pieces – plates or bowls or cups – are all the more beautiful for having been broken and repaired. The gold and silver filled cracks have enhanced the object, made it more precious.
We are quick to throw away broken objects. We are quick to see our wounds (visible and invisible) as indications of weakness. But repaired breaks and wounds can render the object (or person) stronger than before, and, like kintsugi, maybe even more beautiful. If you’ve had a physical or emotional breakage, give it time to work its way back to whatever shape or form it decides to take. It will be different. You will be different, maybe even better. As Rumi said, ‘The wound is the place where the light enters you.’