The Broken Vase

During a hotel stay, I noticed a vase on a shelf in the lobby. The big, open foyer relied mainly on wood and light, natural colors. As a contrast, the designers had used ceramic tiling for the decor elements, kept in blue and white — the colors of Bavaria. The vase came in those same colors, but something was off.

Upon closer inspection, I realized the vase was broken — but not really. The lid was fine, and it sat exactly where it was supposed to be, but beneath it was not a ceramic container. Instead, it was a transparent, plastic vessel in the shape of a vase, inside of which rested the broken shards of what must once have been the original. “Ha! What a great idea!” I thought.

Perhaps it was an art piece intended to be half-broken, half-perfect from the start. Maybe someone actually broke the vase and 3D-printed a replacement. Regardless, the object reminded me of kintsugi, the Japanese art of integrating mistakes instead of making them disappear.

When a teacup breaks, you can use invisible glue to mend it and hope no one will notice. Or, you can fix it with seams of gold, turning what was once a symbol of its brokenness into the main feature of an entirely new creation.

That vase was also kintsugi, but it took the philosophy to yet another level: Sometimes, the best way to repair what’s broken is to not fix it at all. Simply displaying its remains might be enough.

After one of my worst alcohol benders, I woke up on a stretcher in the hospital hallway. I had neither my wallet nor my jacket, and my phone was almost out of battery. A kind nurse gave me a bottle of sparkling water, and while it marked the start of my return back to civilization, I promptly lost its cap on the way home. For more than a year, I kept that empty, cap-less bottle on my desk. It was the perfect reminder of knowing your limits, and I haven’t landed back in the hospital since.

Whether it’s the lid, the base, or the leader of your book club that no longer wants to serve its function the next time some part of your life breaks, remember: Not every problem needs to be fixed, and even the ones that do don’t have to be put together exactly the way they were before they fell apart.