This is how a thrift shop pair of shoes taught me the intrinsic values of Wabi-Sabi.
|(How a simple pair of shoes taught me to be more tolerant)
At the beginning of the school year, my 16-year-old granddaughter decided that she would live with me for awhile, in order to live in a district with what she considered a good school. She was in 10th grade, 5’7” and 114 pounds.
She saw an article in a newspaper about an upcoming Beauty Pageant. She told me she had always wanted to be in a beauty pageant, but not by herself. She would enter if I would. They did have a category for older women so reluctantly I agreed, (secretly admitting I had always wanted to, as well). But, only if we could find new dresses we could afford. I was positive we would not, and I would be released from my obligation.
At the local mall, however, in the prom dress store we found gorgeous formal dresses for 10 and 20 dollars, and so we enrolled. As I was getting my hair done (something I seldom do) for the pageant, (sitting under the hair dryer), I ran across a magazine article that would profoundly change my life. It was an article on the principles of “Wabi Sabi." Wabi Sabi was about accepting diversity and imperfection, flaunting our flaws instead of hiding them shamefully. I checked out a few books and began to realize that these were principles that made good life standards, attitudes I would like to incorporate into my life and perhaps into my 5th Grade classroom, as well.
Not only is Wabi Sabi about Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle, it has to do with appreciating the beauty in imperfection and tolerance for the older generation.
I started by wearing to class what was now dubbed the “Wabi Sabi” shoes. My daughter found these shoes at a consignment shop for 5 dollars. I like them because they make me taller than my 5th graders. At 5’2”, I’ll take any advantage I can get. They fit us both. With a new coat of polish they gleamed. My husband reattached a loose piece of hardware and added new brads. They were the kind of shoes that made you feel like a million bucks. When one of us had something special to do, we borrowed the shoes, which spent a lot of time on the seat of a car travelling back and forth. I wore them in the beauty pageant and I won the Spirit Award. My daughter wore them to a job interview and got the job.
I wore them to the first day of class for Grade 5, and I began to explain about how Wabi-Sabi worked. When my watch lost a rhinestone from the wristband, it still told time, didn’t it? And, often we only used one side of a sheet of paper and then discard it. We decided it would be okay to do one assignment on the back of an older one, if it was clearly marked, such as drawing an “X” on the used side.
I told them the old story of the pot that apologized to its owner for having a crack and spilling a little water every day. The owner said it was okay, because where the water leaked out, wild flowers grew, which made his journey more pleasant. Adhering to the principles of Wabi Sabi made our classroom a little more pleasant as well. I no longer found half- used pencils in the trash, but they were used to the end, and they kept the eraser part in case someone needed it.
Furniture used to be made with three legs that matched, because the furniture maker believed only God was perfect. Martha Graham, when speaking of Wabi Sabi, said the Native American woman, when weaving a blanket, often left a flaw, so the soul could escape. Flaws, which used to be so readily embraced, have now almost become intolerable. We need to teach our children to love and accept them once again. I especially welcome the theories of Wabi Sabi, because I need to do so. I recently was reading an AARP article (I’m an avid reader) about “Championing 50 + Workers.” I had almost finished the whole article before I realized (gulp) that I was included in that group.
At 54, I feel like I still have lots of things still to teach my new students each year, including tolerance for all things old, flawed, and imperfect, including me! Ther”s a big glaring flaw in my life, one I try not to promote. I can easily keep it hidden until one of my new students gets around to asking me which car in our postage-size parking lot is mine. It is then that I must admit that although I have a Master’s Degree in Literature, I can’t drive. And believe me; I tried, over and over. It is some weird inherited quirk that is sort of like dyslexia, but only has to do with right and left.
I usually start addressing the issue of my non-driving only when it comes up in class, (this year it didn’t come up until November), by drawing a clock on the board backwards and asking them what time it is. This is so they can see some of the obstacles I have overcome. Does not being able to drive make me less valuable as a teacher? My school doesn’t think so. And with a Wabi-Sabi attitude, my students and I set sail on a year-long adventure of acceptance, tolerance for what is imperfect, and making the useless useful again. Let me leave you with this thought.
I shake my counterpane of dreams
and see what once was tatters
have now been quilted whole again
for “Finished Product” matters.
No longer sports it gaping holes
It seems the laws of flaws have changed,
now they’re known just to me.
Teaching tolerance is all about “Changing the Laws of Flaws.” and if Wabi Sabi can help out with that, then more power to it.
(Word Count 1000)