Monday, January 26, 2009

Broken Tea Bowls



"The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places."

--Ernest Hemingway
A Farewell to Arms


I learned something valuable yesterday. I learned about broken Japanese tea bowls, and about the Japanese Wabi aesthetic. According to Zen-cha Roku, Wabi means lacking something, having things run contrary to our desires, being frustrated in our wishes. Things imperfect, things irregular or damaged. Like me, and probably like you, too.

These irreplaceable antique porcelain Japanese tea bowls used in tea ceremonies sometimes become cracked or broken. They are not throwaways. The broken bowls are painstakingly repaired with a mixture of lacquer and gold, whereby they become more valuable, the repaired bowl worth more than the original. They say that the repairs lend character and beauty to the bowl, the repaired imperfections enhancing the design, and they are prized all the more.

Crystal, my teacher, said that once she and her mother were driving in the canyon, and they had just passed one of those signs that warn: WATCH FOR FALLING ROCKS, when a landslide of boulders came crashing down on their car. One of her tires was ripped off its bent rim, the windows were broken out. Her injured mother stayed in the car, sitting in a sea of broken glass. Crystal got out, and began to pound on the dented hood. "Why ME?" she asked the mountain. "WHY ME?" I mean, how many times have you read that sign--and NEVER had any rocks fall on you? DO you know of ANYONE who ever had rocks fall on them? Why me, indeed. Crystal said when she was a child, and was faced with disappointments and hurts, her dad always told her to "Cowboy up!"

But, you know what? When I first learned about my melanoma, my first reaction was Why me? Then I thought, Because. Just because. A hundred 'why's'. A hundred 'becauses.' Why not me? Joseph Wirthlin, an LDS Apostle said last October, "The dial on the wheel of sorrow eventually points to each of us. No one is exempt." But you know what else? Nobody ever promised it was going to be roses all the way. The poet Theodore Roethke said it: "I learn by going where I have to go." Sometimes we just have to "Cowboy up."

A note I discovered once among some old papers: Adversity helps men to rise above themselves.

My husband said once, a long time ago, "When you think of the vastness and enormity of the universe, and of the billions and billions of planets and stars, doesn't it make you feel small and insignificant?" Then he added, "Me, neither!"

We are all like the precious flower vase made by Rikyo called Onjoji, and a beautiful tea bowl named Seppo, made by Koatsu--prized all the more because they were cracked, and have been fixed. We may be imperfect, but that's okay.

My favorite songwriter/poet Leonard Cohen wrote: Ring the bells that still can ring/ Forget your perfect offering/ There is a crack in everything/ That's how the light gets in.

Is that true? I think so. :)

24 comments:

paisley said...

what a beautiful post.. one that really makes me think... i am so glad i popped in at this precise moment in time... i needed to hear this.. really....

Joyce Ellen Davis said...

I thought about you as I wrote this, and about my 2 good friends Batman and Robin, both coping with ALS, and my friend k, in Florida, with MRSA, and Rose Dewyknickers (who doesn't even have her own BODY), and, and, and.... None of us are are islands, none of us stand alone....Gee, where is my pencil? Those are GREAT LINES, I should write them down, set them to music even!

Joyce Ellen Davis said...

And, thank you! I am glad you popped in, too.

wendy said...

thank you for writing this. I have been reading silently, for a while...looking for the pcs of my broken life...sometimes not looking, just sitting with the largest of them, trying not to cry.

you are a treasure.

Joyce Ellen Davis said...

Wendy: {{Hugs}} I knew something was going on.... Feel better. xo

Joyce Ellen Davis said...

And. for a while you've kept the door closed, because you are good at closing doors. I'm glad you've opened this one, dear friend.

christine said...

Joyce, what a beautiful essay. I love the analogy of the tea bowls and humans, with our imperfections making us more beautiful.

I didn't know you had melanoma, and I'm sorry to hear it. I hope all goes well for you, and that the doctors can rid you of it.

Your husband sounds like a neat guy.

Joyce Ellen Davis said...

Christine, that was a long time ago (like 30+ years ago, so I don't usually think much about it). Now the biggest *crack* in my life is my tricky backbone. As Gilda Radner said, "It's always something...."

And yeah, my husband is a keeper. Glad you liked the post! It was a good lesson....

Tammy said...

Melanoma? Did I miss this post?

This was beautiful and wise, thank you! I'll pass this to Batman. ;)

MUCH LOVE

petra michelle; Whose role is it anyway? said...

A beautiful post, Joyce! I have always believed it is our imperfections which make us perfect, but as I was reading this
Leonard Cohen's "there is a crack in everything; that's how the light comes in" immediately came to mind. And lo and behold, there he is at the end of the post!
Lovely, Joyce and hugs to you!

Joyce Ellen Davis said...

Thanks, Tammy and Petra. Hugs to you both!

Jo A. T.B. said...

There is so much I learn about my heritage, that I never knew! I think our flaws are what make us beautiful, I know they also make us vulnerable to being hurt! I'm just concentrating on the ones I can change, and the others well they'll just have to be! Really enjoyed your post Joyce!

jillypoet said...

Joyce, I really enjoyed this! I love the notion of tea ceremonies and imperfection and tradition, all of it... This essay found me at just the right time. Or should I say, you dropped by my blog at just the right time! So what are you studying?

Dana said...

This piece is beyond perfect. We seem to have a happy complex, especially here in the United States. What makes us think we should, or can, live our lives in a perpetual state of bliss, of perfection?

I love what you say about the Wabi aesthetic, and I think we should all look at our lives, our art, in this way. Our fragility does not make us less, rather it makes us more. Our poetry can be flawed and still be beautiful. If we don't have cracks and flaws in our lives and our art, what do we have to measure anything we are, or do, against?

I know I've drifted off topic a bit, but the Wabi description resonates with a lot of things in my life and my writing that I've been thinking about.

Also, I am so relieved to hear that your melanoma was so long ago. I got worried for a moment that you were talking about a recent diagnosis. Whew.

Thanks again for this post.

Joyce Ellen Davis said...

Hi, Dana! I am always glad when you stop by! I value your comments and appreciate your comments.

Jilly, it was a class at church last Sunday, on dealing with adversity in our lives.

Crystal said...

Joyce...I Love it!! I'm not much of a blogger so I was very please to see this. You have an amazing insight. It reminds me... "life is beautiful". I have had several people stop and comment on this lesson. It is something we all need to be reminded of. Thanks again for your beautifully written post.

Joyce Ellen Davis said...

Crystal. XO

Annie said...

Joyce, this was quite simply the most beautiful post I have read this week. It is filled with not just the beauty of the information you shared about the bowls but also to have created an image using these bowls as a metaphor. Our own trials, when handled with grace and patience and a positive attitude, will strengthen and improve us. Our little cracks will become part of our character.

Joyce Ellen Davis said...

Annie, especially if they are repaired with gold ~ which they will be....

Kay said...

A beautiful post. You are one wise woman - have I said that before? Ah, but it bears repeating, wise woman!

Michelle said...

Yes, JOyce. Yes.

Thank you.

(PS. Leonard Cohen is one of my favourites too. Hallelujah.)

January said...

Great post, Joyce.

Crafty Green Poet said...

yes I always have seen something really beautiful and profound in the wabi aesthetic and also i am a great fan of leonard Cohen, so this is a particularly meaningful post for me

Brett said...

I first heard about Japanese bowls from Peter Mayer. He's written a song about it now on his album Heaven Below. You might want to check it out.