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Broken, but better than ever

It was a big old house with parts of it rarely used.   The dining room might be used for Thanksgiving, and the guest room with its stunning canopy bed was seldom occupied.  The living room had fine antique furniture, not that comfortable but beautiful to behold.

On the coffee table sat a rather ornate porcelain dish with a distinctive lid.  It was a rather delicate container that probably had some other original use.  At my grandparents’ house, it held caramel toffee, a secret treat for any grandchild that ever came to visit.

Generations never quite understood where the toffee came from and why the dish was never empty.   My grandparents never spoke of the contents.  It was like a shared unspoken secret.

In their seventies, my grandparents moved to Bay Point, Florida.  They had a delightful home with lots of glass on the golf course.  The toffee and dish made the trip to the beach and sat in the same spot on the old coffee table.  However, it was no longer situated in a sequestered living room.  The bowl and lid were now in the main path of rambunctious great-grandchildren, who had discovered the toffee, but not how to slow down.

It was bound to happen.  My daughter, Elizabeth, was the unlucky great-grand that hit the dish, knocking the lid off and breaking part of it in half.   There was a collective gasp as everyone in the room looked at the broken pieces and then at my grandfather.  My first cousin’s wife was in the room with her own three children.  At the time she muttered to my wife, “I am so glad it was one of your kids that broke that lid”.

In a great teaching moment for us all, my grandfather picked up the pieces and told Elizabeth not to worry about it.  “I can fix it”, he reassured her.  To our collective amazement and to Elizabeth’s great relief, he eventually repaired the lid, with the cracks barely visible.

Ironically, this week I learned of a centuries-old type of Japanese art called Kintsugi Pottery.  Kintsugi means “golden repair”.  It is made by taking broken pieces of ceramic and repairing them by mixing lacquer with gold, silver, or platinum.   The repairs are obviously visible and rather than trying to restore the pottery back to its original state, the repairs become part of the reconstructed object.  The repairs are part of the history of the new piece and not only provide an artful reconstruction but incorporate meaningful messages.

That which was broken is now made whole.  The broken piece can become more valuable that the original.   Rather than hide our flaws, we can highlight them.  We are all broken in some ways, worthy of redemption and restoration.  

Years later, after the story had been told at many subsequent family gatherings, Granddaddy Joe gave Elizabeth that repaired porcelain dish, still containing toffee.  Though she was an adult by then, it was a great gesture.  What was broken was repaired better than ever.  What was thought lost survived for yet another generation.  Forgiveness was never a question, nor was the love that bound them together over generations.

What was once just a nice ceramic dish became a greater story, known by everyone in our family.  Even today, people look for the cracks.  What was broken did indeed become better than ever.


Dan Ponder can be reached at

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