Kintsugi Reminds Me That Living With MS Isn’t Something to Hide
This week, I had a conversation with my eldest son about the importance of saying “I’m sorry,” and making amends when you harm someone or have done something you shouldn’t have. He had made a mistake, spoke words in anger, and felt terrible about it later. I explained to him that although he could never “un-say” those words, he could apologize and make amends.
To help him understand the beauty of healing, I explained the concept of kintsugi to him. The word is a combination of two Japanese words: “kin,” which means “golden,” and “tsugi,” which means “joinery” or “mending.” It is an ancient art form used by Japanese craftspeople to repair broken pottery or ceramic vessels. Instead of throwing a broken bowl or cup away, an artist will collect all the broken pieces, carefully put them back together using lacquer (or its modern equivalent, epoxy), and cover the adhesive with expensive golden powder.
The goal is not to hide the breaks or imperfections. Rather, they are accentuated and made beautiful. They become a part of the bowl’s story, just as worthy of respect and admiration as anything the artist intended. And in the end, the item becomes even more valuable as a result of what has happened to it. An artist I greatly admire, Makoto Fujimura, has applied this term more broadly in his book “Art and Faith: A Theology of Making.”
Becoming part of the story
I think about this concept of kintsugi a great deal, especially as a person living with multiple sclerosis (MS). Imagine if the hard things we experience could be made manifest in our bodies! Imagine if people could see our brokenness not as weakness or something to pity, but as something beautiful and golden. Every time we experience an exacerbation, when the fatigue feels like too much, or when the brain fog is just too dense to wade through, that is a little crack.
But in time, we heal. We rebound. We get back at it. And when that happens, what was broken is redeemed. It is joined with gold. The cracks never heal; they just become part of the story — part of us.
I take great comfort from kintsugi. Not only are the items repaired using this technique stunningly beautiful and unique, they are also evidence of strength and endurance, both of which I need as a patient living with MS. As an art restorer, Hiroki Kiyokawa, says, “All things are created and destined to be broken someday. I think being broken or damaged is never a bad thing. All of us develop scars throughout our lives. But these scars should never be hidden. Our imperfections can be the birth of something new.”
It’s easy to ignore this when you’re young and healthy, your body responds just as it should, you heal quickly, and nothing hurts. But patients living with MS learn fairly early just how ephemeral that wholeness is. We know that all things are “destined to be broken someday,” and that offers us a depth of understanding, a resonance that others who haven’t been broken may not possess. That wisdom is ours for the moment, and I firmly believe it is something we should treasure.
Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.