Last January, after our trip to Guatemala with the Metro Big Band, I seriously considered sending my trombone off to have it rehabilitated and re-plated. One of my fellow trombonists had done the same thing to his horn, the same make and model, and said the results were stunning. I’ve played this horn since 1970, and it didn’t look brand new back then. I wondered what it would be like to play a shiny new version.
But I didn’t do it. I talked myself down. Probably because Cyndi said my horn looks like I’ve held it in my hands often, for a long time. It’s a King Silver Sonic 3B. It shows the wear and tear of 48 years of use by me (and who knows how many others before I got it). I wish I knew more about it’s provenance. It seems important, like knowing a close friend’s life story. But I’ve written to the manufacturer at least twice, sending the serial number and all that, without success.
Another voice that talked me out of refinishing was author Seth Godin, who writes often about Wabi Sabi, a Japanese term he defines loosely as “the pain and beauty of wear, use, and age.” As in, old wood-working tools that show the wear of being used often – the key is “used,” not just old and rusty.
Wikipedia says: Wabi connotes rustic simplicity, freshness or quietness, and can be applied to both natural and human-made objects, or understated elegance. It can also refer to quirks and anomalies arising from the process of construction, which add uniqueness and elegance to the object. Sabi is beauty or serenity that comes with age, when the life of the object and its impermanence are evidenced in its patina and wear, or in any visible repairs.
I asked, what else do I use often that has Wabi Sabi? My first thought was my Daily Bible in Chronological Order, that I keep in my bookbag. I’ve read through it every year for many years, which has resulted in more handling that it was designed for. The only reason I still have it is I’ve kept it together with lots of glue.
This Bible is full of scribbled notes in the margins, and reminders of important events on the page of the date when they occurred, making it a personal reminder of valuable things. Every year on December 31st, after I finish reading Revelation, when I turn back to the beginning in order to start over on January 1st, it feels like my Bible is growing in value. At least, this copy.
It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite writers, Kathleen Norris, who wrote in her book, Dakota, about why she moved from anti-religious intellectualism to becoming a true believer: “I was drawn to the strong old women in the congregation. Their well-worn Bibles said to me, “There is more there than you know,” and made me take more seriously the religion that had caused my grandmother Totten’s Bible to be so well used that is spine broke.”
In fact there is always more there than we know. It is deeper, wider, higher, longer, than we can imagine or achieve. Why would we want it any other way? That’s Wabi Sabi. A reminder there is a tangible nature to our walk with God that should leave its marks on us and on our stuff. People should be able to know what is important to us by observing our life, and what they see should point them toward Jesus.
Another thing I’ve used for a long time and value the signs of wear is a Tilley hat that I bought in 1995. I wanted a hat to wear when joining Byron on Boy Scout backpacking trips. Since then it has been on every mountain hike I’ve taken and appears in all my photos.
I also asked if there was anything I use that might join this group someday? A Wabi Sabi wanna-be? My best candidate is a brown leather messenger bag that I carry to my office every day instead of a briefcase. It is made well, and attractive, and will probably join my Wabi Sabi list someday after I have more mileage with it. At least, this bag has potential. My previous canvas bag wasn’t robust enough to last long enough to grow in character before falling apart.
The thing is, I don’t look very new and shiny myself nowadays; why shouldn’t my favorite things show the same wear, use, and age that I do?
Although, having said that, I wouldn’t turn down a brand-new road bike.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32
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