Tag Archives: Leonard Cohen

Cracked Pots, Mended

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

Hand built and hand-painted ceramic bowl broken during the firing process was repaired by Kintsugi. Created by Ruthann Hurwitz, The Village Potter

Ruthann Hurwitz [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

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).

The Benefit of Imperfection

Herbie Hancock, one of the all-time great jazz musicians, remembers when he played a wrong chord on the piano while performing with Miles Davis in Paris years ago.  Hancock was horrified by his mistake but “Davis didn’t hear the chord as wrong.   He heard it as something new and went with it.  There was no negative judgment,” said Hancock in an interview on National Public Radio.

Last December, I experienced similar newness birthed in imperfection when I was too ill to decorate for the holidays and a friend offered to decorate for me. The only opening in her schedule, however, was a time when I wouldn’t be home.  “No problem,” she said.  “Tell me where your decorations are stored and the house will be finished by the time you get back.”

That evening I stepped into a home that radiated hospitality and Christmas welcome, my home.  Since my friend didn’t know where each angel and bit of greenery traditionally went, she had put them wherever she wanted.  I no longer felt badly about not being well enough to decorate my own home.  My “imperfection” let in the light of newness from a good friend.  How could one ask for a better gift?

Perfection certainly has an important place in life–when building the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, making a souffle, or developing a website for the Affordable Care Act, to name a few examples.

On the other hand, if we try for perfection in every part of life and beat ourselves or others up for not achieving it, our drive for perfection causes damage.  It constrains us and strains our relationships.  It fills backpacks with impossible expectations, and our lives with unnecessary judgment and stress.

One of the unexpected gifts of my life having turned upside down a few years ago is that I am constantly invited (or should I say, challenged) to accept vulnerability and imperfection in myself, and to welcome the grace and newness imperfections make possible. In the words of Canadian composer and singer, Leonard Cohen,

The birds they sang at the break of day
Start again I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what has passed away
or what is yet to be…
Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering,
There is a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in.

 From “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen