Everything Is Broken (So Let’s Fix It)

Everything Is Broken (So Let’s Fix It) January 13, 2018

Everything is broken,
Everything is broken.
Everything, everything,
Every god-damned thing is broken…

I found myself singing this little song last week, as I tried to get the top off my malfunctioning washing machine, only to find that the ratchet on the nutdriver handle had also broken.

Even the tools to fix the broken things were broken.

It was fitting to the pattern of the week, which included Muddy The Dog destroying my new boots — high-quality vegan footware ordered from the UK — before I’d even had a chance to wear them.

The climate was broken, with sub-zero wind chills and eight straight days of freezing temperatures — a twenty-eight year record for the area.

The national political climate remained broken. And the tools to fix it — the free press, the election system — remained broken too.

And after a difficult holiday season, my heart remained broken.

I tried to psych myself up by adding a counter-point to my song:

Everything is broken
(So let’s fix it)
Everything is broken.
(So let’s fix it)

But the washing machine was beyond simple repair. It needed a service call, and the Maytag repairperson would not be available until next week. (At least it was still under warranty.) And it seemed as if nothing else were going to get fixed anytime soon.

And, as if the Fates decided to put a cherry on top of this sundae of brokenness, I knocked one of my favorite mugs — handmade, bought at the Maryland Renaissance Festival a few years ago — out of the drainboard and off the counter, shattering it.

It broke with the handle still attached to a fairly clean half of it, making a striking picture. So I did what we do these days, and posted a photo to Instagram, saying “Somehow, the way this mug shattered when I knocked it out of the drainboard seems a perfect comment on my life at present. Broken and beautiful.”

And I threw the pieces in the trash.

But here’s a funny thing about being a writer about “spiritual” topics: sometimes, people actually expect you to take the stuff you say seriously.

When the photo made its way to Facebook, one friend suggested that I could do something artistic with the pieces. Another, “Without its imperfections life would lack texture and beauty.”

A third said “Wabi sabi. You are the one who taught me that term.” And a fourth posted a link to a story about kintsugi, the Japanese tradition of repairing broken ceramics with gold to call attention to the mended seams.

And another observed that the way it was broken showed that even though it was shattered I still had a handle on it.

To which I could only say this:


You all are going to make me do this, aren’t you? You’re going to make me actually walk my talk about wabi sabi, pull those broken pieces out of the trash, go to the crafts store, and try some modern-style kintsugi? And use that as a launching point for some essay about how although the world is completely broken, with patience and love we can put it back together.


Damn you. Thank you, my friends.


So, Saturday — the day that would have been my father’s 73rd birthday, and which marked one year from my mother coming home after her brush with death, I hied over to the crafts store.

Traditional kintsugi is done with Japanese lacquer, which is not only hard to get ahold of, but is dangerous to work with. The lacquer’s Japanese name, urushi, is the root of urushiol — the name for the chemical that makes poison ivy itchy. Properly cured, a process taking days, it make a fine natural polymer; improperly done, it can cause a serious rash, or worse. So the traditional route was out.

On the other extreme is glue with gold-colored paint overtop for a faux kintsugi. That didn’t seem right either.

So I compromised: Elmer’s China and Glass Cement, and real gold flake, which I ground down to a more powdery form with my mortar and pestle.

Real gold plus some real effort. This was becoming a ritual. A ritual to honor the broken world, and those who continually remake it. A ritual to honor wabi-sabi, the beauty of the worn and broken. I wrote a poem years ago:

the bonsai tree is lopsided
the potter’s glaze on the chado bowls is spiderweb-cracked
the forge line of the katana waves and weaves back and forth like the footsteps of a drunkard
the black belt of the budo master is time-worn and frayed

zen says no perfect thing is beautiful
the things that are true are irregular, worn
broken symmetry
like the favorite coat I keep stitching up

my heart, too, is irregular and worn
broken and mended many times

zen says
from outside of time everything
is already broken
and everything is just this moment new

the treasure you would hoard is already stolen and dispersed
but can never be lost
the loved one, the beloved self, is already dead
and yet was never born

and my heart
is already broken
already renewed
already reborn
my wabi-sabi heart
glorious in its flaws and scars
is perfect just as it is

and I have already arrived
on the other shore

It still needs a little touch-up, but the mug is cemented back together, with golden lines showing where it was mended.
Everything is broken. But what we do about that is up to us. May we remind and inspire each other to do our best.

Thank you, friends.

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