I’ve been trying unsuccessfully for days to perfect this post on imperfection. Yes, I see the irony in that statement. I need to let go of the struggle for perfection and get on with it. Certainly, I don’t want grammatical errors in my writing, but that’s not what I mean. I’m talking about life and all that comprises it. I need to remember that perfection in life is more fungible than many of us realize.
Kintsugi Pottery Honors Imperfection
One of my favorite reminders to hold an expansive view of perfection is Kintsugi, a style of Japanese ceramic repair dating from the 15th century. In Kintsuge, a ceramist repairs broken or cracked pottery with silver or gold, and sometimes other materials. The repairs make the ceramic unique, bringing undeniable beauty from what had been broken. It becomes more beautiful for having been broken. It is tedious, but ultimately exquisite.
This style of ceramic repair is influenced by the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, which calls for seeing beauty in the flawed or imperfect; and mottainai, a feeling of regret when something is wasted; as well as mushin, the acceptance of change. Kintsugi reminds us that our broken places can be sources of goodness and beauty.
The boy and The Water Jugs
According to folklore, a boy had to carry water a long distance every day in two jugs that hung from a pole across his shoulders. One jug was whole, the other cracked. The cracked jug was only half full each day when he reached home, while the other jug was still filled to the brim.
As the boy trudged along one day, the jugs begin to speak (as they can in folktales). The uncracked jug boasted about its perfection, saying,
“I am such a good and perfect jug. I do my work just right. You, on the other hand, are lousy and worthless. Your purpose in life is to carry water from the well back to the village but day after day, year after year, only half of your water makes it home. You’re always going to be like this. I think that somebody should get a new jug and replace you.”
The cracked jug was devastated. It called out to God , “Why have you done this to me? Why is my jug cracked? I am no good.” The boy heard the conversation and the jug’s anguished plea to God. He responded to the jug, saying,
“Yes, you are cracked. I’ve known that for a long, long time. But your crack doesn’t make you worthless. Look at the side of the road below your partner jug. It is dry and barren, and nothing grows there. Now, look at the side of the road below you. Do you see the line of wildflowers all along the road? They flourish because the water that drips slowly from your cracked jug gives life to what would not otherwise exist all along the road we travel. Through the crack in your otherwise perfect jug, you have brought life and beauty to an otherwise desolate and barren stretch of road. I will not exchange you for another pot, nor will I let anyone discount the good that your crack has done
The Wisdom of IMperfection
Life keeps reminding me that I need not follow the stern internal voices calling for a particular type of perfection. That striving too hard for perfection kills the joy of life and relationships. That taking a deep breath and experiencing the goodness of “imperfection” elicits gratitude. That what I consider an imperfection or broken place in my life may be a way for me to bring beauty, healing, and wholeness to others.
After all, as Leonard Cohen says, “Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in” (Anthem, by Leonard Cohen).