A little over a week ago I made the decision to have my left leg amputated below the knee. It was both the most burdensome and yet the most obvious and effortless decision I’ve ever made. Allow me to explain.
I have multiple autoimmune diseases that working together have made everyday life so painful that for the last two to three years my husband would at times find me laying on the floor, screaming in agony with no medicine capable of lessening the pain. My left foot, ankle, and calf have been plagued by a widespread red, swollen rash and necrotic ulcers which, in the last six months or so, had slowly transitioned to wet and eventually dry gangrene. While suffering through the chronic pain, I dutifully looked into every possible treatment for my illnesses. When every conventional treatment failed, I tried treatments that are experimental only to have those fail as well. The brokenness and despair from so many failed attempts solidified my will in choosing to become an amputee.
Up until this point, my disabilities have been largely invisible. Of course I have at times found myself acquainted with those who have looked at me with the belief that I am less capable of performing different tasks or making difficult decisions without their assistance… and all with invisible disabilities. Now I have a very visible disability and I have already seen the well meaning but completely condescending “oh let me help you with that” without my ever asking for help type of behavior. The brokenness that comes with the realization that this amputation is forever hasn’t even hit me yet.
Brokenness is something I think we all live with at some point in our lives: the loss of a loved one or a relationship, a job, a pet, a limb, a best friend (in elementary school), a favorite toy, innocence, confidence, a combination of things. Most people, I think, dread the brokenness that comes their way, as if it is an enemy to be avoided, because when it finally hits them it is overwhelming! But brokenness is not something that necessarily has to break any of us down.
I once had a friend whose family was very well traveled and whose home was filled with beautiful antiques, trinkets, bobbles, and ornaments from the places they had lived around the world. My friend regaled me once about the skill she and her sister had developed by age 8 or 9 for crazy-gluing these pieces back together so well that their mother didn’t notice that they had been broken. I feel like a vast majority of us have done this at some point because in our society and culture today there is an expectation for and obsession with perfection. We need to have perfect grades to get into the perfect college to earn the perfect degree to be able to land the perfect job just in time to meet the perfect partner to have the perfect relationship that results in a perfect wedding and is shortly followed by buying the perfect home in the perfect neighborhood by the perfect school just in time to have the perfect children. Scars, blemishes, disabilities, weaknesses, imperfections, and last seasons clothes – all things that break down our self esteem and the impression we make upon others – are to be avoided or hidden away so that no one will know what we have lived through and experienced, but the practice of Kintsukuri does not hide imperfections but rather highlights them instead.
We all have seen examples of beautiful ancient (and modern) Japanese pottery and porcelain. These pieces are precious to families and are passed down from generation to generation. In any home a thing of beauty may be broken and our usual response is to either throw away the pieces or try to mend them. The story goes that at some point in ancient Japan a ruler accidentally broke his favorite bowl. Rather than throwing the pieces away, he sent the bowl back to the original maker hoping he could fix it. When his bowl was sent back, it had been repaired but with ugly metal staples. Of course no ruler could stand to have staples in his beautiful bowl so he asked his craftsmen to try to find a better, more beautiful way to fix his bowl. Some unnamed artisan came up with the idea of mending the seams with gold, thus began Kintsukuroi: the art of repairing that which has been broken with gold. Rather than trying to hide the scars, they are highlighted and great beauty comes from the tragedy of being broken. The value of the broken pieces increases because of the added beauty of the mending of the scars.
I love Kintsukuroi because of what it represents: the acceptance and celebration of the scars that come from being broken. Hiding our brokenness and imperfections doesn’t feed our souls, doesn’t make the world a better place, and doesn’t make them disappear. They’re still there. And the story they tell is a beautiful one, a tale of overcoming heartache, of being brave enough to try something even in the face of failure, of going out on a limb, of chasing dreams, of getting your ass kicked by life… but still getting up and trying again.
My new stump – Tucita – is one of my Kintsukuroi and I am at peace with my decision. I chose to stop trying to save my dying foot so that I could focus on saving the rest of my body from the disease that had been slowly killing my foot for the last three years. I will not be ashamed for others to see my Kintsukuroi because they tell the stories of my brokenness that led to the beauty in my life and striving.