The cracks beneath the surface

Posted by Kenetha Stanton on

Broken heart pendant in blue lace agate stone with gold kintsugi (kintsukuroi) repair

Customers placing custom orders will very often try to specify that the stone needs to have more than one break in it, and I have to remind them that I have no control over the number (or pattern) of breaks that will occur when I break a stone.

The process I use to break stones involves a lot of blunt force trauma. I place a large cast iron chisel on the stone and pound it with a hammer until it breaks.

So why not take the largest of the resulting pieces and repeat that process to create more breaks in the stone to meet customer requests for more breaks?

That seems like the most logical approach, but it's not nearly that simple. The trauma the stone experiences from the chisel is only one factor in the breaking process, and it doesn't even appear to be the most important one.


Although the chisel I use in the breaking process targets the force of the hammer's blow to a specific location on the stone's surface, it (surprisingly) doesn't actually dictate where the break will happen.

Sometimes the break occurs right along the line of where the chisel meets the stone, but it's equally likely for the break to occur perpendicular to the line of the chisel. It may also occur at some other angle that crosses the line of the chisel. And sometimes it even occurs at part of the stone that is not even touching the line of the chisel.

Having watched this phenomenon many, many times over the last few years, I've become convinced that the blunt force of the trauma inflicted by the chisel is only one factor in the way the stone breaks. The more important factor seems to be the internal weaknesses in the stone's structure.

There are many reasons why these might exist: the stone's natural crystal structure may create a bias in the way it breaks, it may have layers or inclusions of other minerals that form natural weak points, or there may be undetectable cracks deep in the stone that predispose it to break along those pathways.

This is further reinforced by the results I get when I try to break a stone a second time by hitting a broken fragment again with the chisel and hammer.

Because the initial breaking process has already introduced so much trauma to the stone, it has already created weaknesses in the form of partial cracks. Sometimes these cracks can be seen (as in the image at the top of the post), but they are most often too small or too internalized to be visible.

When a second blow is administered, the weakened stone almost inevitably shatters or crumbles leaving significant parts of the stone into shards that resemble grains of sand. These resulting pieces are too small to work with, making repair impossible.

This is why whatever break pattern (and number of pieces) I get with the first break is all I can work with.

But this also paints a telling image about what successive trauma can do to us, particularly if we have not dealt with the cracks left behind by previous traumas.

The cracks in us

As humans, we experience trauma much like the stones being hit with the hammer and chisel. Life hits us with something so hard that some part of us breaks under the impact.

And, just like the stones, we break in different ways under that impact because of our own internal "structure." Two people facing the exact same trauma are likely to be affected in different ways based on the differences in their personalities, their personal histories of previous traumas, their beliefs, their support systems (or lack of them) and more.

Likewise, unhealed cracks (even if not visible) from previous traumas are more likely to cause greater damage when facing a new trauma because they weaken our resiliency.

Fortunately, we have one very powerful benefit that stones do not have: we can heal!

I have a close family member who fractured the C2 vertebra in his neck and fractured his elbow in a recent accident. The bone in his elbow is already showing signs of repairing itself, and the vertebra also has a strong chance of knitting back together as long as the two pieces stay connected so that blood and nutrient flow are not cut off. (Thus, he is in a very uncomfortable neck brace to keep is immobilized.)

Our broken hearts function more like his broken bones than like stones.

While broken bones require immobilization to keep the two bone surfaces touching for healing to happen, the cracks in our hearts and minds need other kinds of care and tending to heal, but in both cases there are ways of dealing with the cracks created by trauma to facilitate and improve the healing process.

It's easy (and tempting) to ignore those cracks that we can't easily see, but taking the time and effort to find those cracks in ourselves and do what is necessary to heal them increases our resiliency when life deals up future trauma.

I find it helpful to keep an eye out for those places where I am especially tender, the places where I'm easily triggered. These point to unhealed cracks that need my attention and loving care.

And it's worth tending to them now rather than waiting for future trauma to break them much more significantly!

Questions to ponder

Where are the tender places in your life that could use a little extra tending? What are your triggers that point to unhealed cracks in your life?

What actions might you take to move toward healing those cracks now before future trauma hits?


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