lessons in imperfection from a cat ornament

When I was a student, I loved to buy tat from charity shops (still do, but yeah…), and I came across this handsome chap in Stirling’s Shelter shop. Cute, vintage, kitsch, cat. All the things I love, and for the pricely sum of 50p.

Over the years I’ve got rid of a lot, but this cat has stayed. What really delights me about him – although I didn’t notice this until I’d had him for at least a couple of years – was that his previous owner had glued his head back on!

Nowadays, who bothers to glue things back together? If something breaks, its less hassle to to throw something away and buy another.

The Japanese word kintsugi means to put a broken item together again. They make no attempt to hide the damage though, for example by mending pottery with dust mixed with gold or silver, so that the piece proudly displays its imperfection. This imperfection illustrates its history, and makes the item more special than before, simply because it was worth mending.

Similarly, the Japanese philosophy wabi-sabi, which has no direct translation to English, is essentially a world view that acknowledges transience and imperfection. Basically, it describes a beauty that is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. Doesn’t a newly cut lawn look that bit more stunning if it has a couple of fallen leaves on it? Doesn’t an old teddy bear look more loved if he’s missing an eye or he’s gone bald in patches? Doesn’t a plank of wood look more interesting if it has knots?

Although I didn’t notice my cat’s injury for a while, now that I’ve noticed it, the lumpy repair on his neck is obvious. And he does feel all that bit more special because he’s been repaired, so he’s definitely kintsugi. (Look closely at the photo and you’ll see the crack through his bow tie). How did he break? Why did he matter so much to his owner that they repaired him? I don’t know but I love having that glimpse into his history. He’s definitely wabi-sabi too. His repair means he’s imperfect but it gives him that extra spark of charm.

These concepts have been rare in the west but I do like to think that they’re creeping in, as we move subtly back to some of the old ‘make do and mend’ ways. The trend for upcycled furniture could loosely be classed as kintsugi, whereas Celia Pym’s radical knitting is most definitely so (and incidentally was the inspiration behind my desire to learn darning!).

These philosphies remind us that everything has its own beauty, everything has a history, and life is ever-changing. How can you embrace them in your own life? Find something you love – that old one-eyed teddy, your well-worn cardi with the fraying cuffs, the chipped vintage casserole dish, your own face in a mirror. Really study it, look for the details that make it what it is. Consider whether it would mean so much to you if it were perfect. Consider what the hell perfection is, anyway.

Do you own anything that could be classed as kintsugi or wabi-sabi?

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