The Cracks in Everything
On repair, resilience and vulnerability
I’ve been knocked out with some kind of bug, and have spent the last five days horizontal and feeling sorry for myself. Was hoping I’d be out the other side by now but remain mired in it. So I’m re-running an old essay from October 2021, when all this was just fields, and there were a little more than 2,000 of you here; it’s also a great excuse to bring back one of my favourite Tony illustrations.
Last weekend, my wife and kids went to England for a few days to celebrate an early Diwali with their nani and nana. I was ”de rodríguez”—a colloquial Spanish phrase for a husband who stays home while his family go on vacation, named after the titular character from the 1965 movie "El Cálido Verano del Sr. Rodríguez."
I was planning a tame one: dinners with friends, a walk in the mountains, reading and writing in a quiet, tidy house. But late Thursday evening my phone buzzed: a friend, in line at Madrid passport control, jetlagged from LA—a “reverse rodríguez”, in a foreign city, with a weekend to himself.
We were both kid-free. Less than 3 hours apart. And I'd never been to Madrid …
An accidental alignment of stars and schedules. An opportunity for spontaneity, a relic from a life before children. So that's what we did. I jumped on a train, and we spent a weekend in a city new to us both. Armed with a fenomenal list of recommendations from the Madrileños in my life we spent 36 hours eating our way around the city, swapping tales from our voyages through fatherhood. We hadn't hung out since 2018 when we both left San Francisco, so we had a lot to catch up on—families, jobs, children, our ups and our downs.
I talked about my struggle after our youngest was born. “It’s strange," I told him, "after how tough it all was, I'm grateful for it. Putting myself back together made me realise how strong I could be."
Nietzsche famously said, "What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger." It's borderline cliché. But it's a phrase that remains popular because it resonates as a profound human truth. It speaks to progress, healing and resilience. Thinking about our conversation on the train back to Barcelona, watching a golden sun setting over the sandy vistas of central Spain, my mind leapt to broken ceramics, and the Japanese art of kintsugi.
For the uninitiated: when a pot breaks, the easiest thing to do is throw it away.1 If it's one you like, maybe you'll bust out the Super Glue in an attempt to make it "good as new." But practitioners of kintsugi will create a lacquer mixed with powdered gold to repair the item, making the repair inseparable from the object itself (in Japanese 金継ぎ literally translates as "golden joining.")
What was broken is reborn anew, more compelling than it once was. It is imbued with a sense of history, a new beauty, where the breakage becomes part of the story, and the process of repair becomes as important as the craft of construction.
Bonnie Kemske, author of Kintsugi: The Poetic Mend called it "an intimate metaphoric narrative of loss and recovery, breakage and restoration, tragedy and the ability to overcome it. It speaks of fortitude, uniqueness and the beauty in survival, leading us to a respectful acceptance of loss and hardship."
As men, we hide our weaknesses away. We pretend they don't exist, or work quickly to fix them, working hard to ensure they're invisible to all. But these cracks are the making of us—proof that we're fallible, that we can come back from whatever bad hand we’re dealt. We each have a set of scars unique to us, and it's only by exposing them, and making our repairs visible to the world, that we help others do the same.
Keeping my golden seams visible reminds me how far I've come, and the work it took to get there: the support of my wife, friends and family; my time in private therapy and the weekly public therapy of this newsletter; my explorations in meditation and mycology; the conversations with others who reveal their repairs to me.
These cracks are mine: my struggles, my imperfections, my vulnerabilities, my restoration.
I wear them with pride.
"The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places."
— Ernest Hemingway, “A Farewell to Arms”
If you want more on broken pots, start with Bonnie Kemske's essay on how it helped her deal with the death of her brother, follow it up with this School of Life piece that ties it to the Zen ideal of wabi-sabi, and finish with a little geekery in how the concept made its way into the Star Wars universe.
If you’re done reading, this video essay from The Nerdwriter (one of my favourite YouTube channels) frames kintsugi within the screenwriting trope of "Why can't we go back to the way things were?"
Komorebi: another Japanese word of the week
Of course, you already knew about kintsugi—you’re a well-read bunch. So here’s another Japanese word without an English translation you might not know: komorebi. It is made up of the kanji characters for tree (木), shine through (漏れ), and sun (日), and describes the stunning effect where sunlight dapples through the leaves of an overhead tree canopy. A moment that will always stop me in my tracks, and an excellent reminder to get out into nature this weekend.
“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.”
— Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”
Since first writing this essay, one significant change in my life has been the connection and deep meaning I have found in our fatherhood community. It has been tough to get through the whole newsletter without making this joke, but it feels apt here: it has become a place where men are unafraid to show their cracks to each other (solely in the kintsugi sense). I continue to learn and grow with this group of dads who bravely share their scars with each other. If you’d like to be part of it, you know what to do. As always, if you’d like to join the community but can’t justify the cost of a subscription, reply to this email and I’ll send you an invite.
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