When things break

I have been thinking about broken things of late because our Rav4, which I recently mentioned in light of wanting to replace it with an EV, broke terminally. The gear box failed and we discovered that it would cost about the sale value of the car to replace it. And it isn’t just that the gear box will cost $7500 to replace, it is way too much money to sink into a vehicle that has driven more than 200,000km and which might be subject to other ailments requiring additional healing.

While I was obviously considering the car might break down, it was really annoying for it be so expensive to repair, when all other aspects were currently working (if in a rattly fashion). I asked Consumer whether there was any point in talking with Toyota – it seems like deliberate obsolescence to charge so much for replacement parts, which goes against the spirit of the Consumer Guarantees Act. I was told I would be on a losing streak because of the age of the car and I have more worthwhile things to do with my time than fight a losing battle with a global car company.

However, it frustrates me greatly how short-lived so many objects are, and how the great god of perpetual growth results in companies wanting to produce short-lived objects so they can sell you something new. I am the proud owner of a Kathmandu fleecy that I wore in Nepal on Thorung La Pass in 1991 and still wear today gardening (the cuffs are getting a bit frayed). I also now understand why my Dad used to wear his gardening trousers well beyond when his bony rear end wore holes in the seat and why he was so annoyed when I put some of those trousers at the bottom of the rubbish bag because I was embarrassed when people would come by while he was wearing them.

We watched a film last night about breakage that one could see as hokey, or insightful – Tom Hanks in ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ (note correct American spelling). Tom Hanks plays Mister Rogers, from a long running US children’s TV show, ‘Mister Roger’s Neighborhood’ (1968-2001), which explored a range of social and emotional issues including how to express feelings, tolerance, self-worth and death.

The lead character in the movie (based on a real person) is a cynical journalist (named Lloyd Vogel in the movie) who wants to uncover the truth, having achieved success with previous exposés for Esquire magazine. With Mister Rogers he doesn’t find anything to uncover, other than that the man is genuinely interested in and concerned for human beings, particularly children. Mister Rogers’ minder tells Lloyd that Mister Rogers loves people like Lloyd. Lloyd has considerable issues in this fictional life, stemming from his father’s betrayal of his dying wife (Lloyd’s mother) and abandoning Lloyd and his sister. Lloyd sees himself as broken and says as much to Mister Rogers – “That’s why you like me, because I’m broken.” “You’re not broken,” Mister Rogers replies.

I have been working on a novel, in which the core idea is that much about life and the world is broken, but that we can repair those fractures in a way that incorporates the damage with enhancement, to create something that is both better while acknowledging the damage rather than hiding it. As a specific example, a gold filigree teacup glued back together where the cracks have gold roses growing out of them. This idea draws on the Japanese art form of kintsugi, which is a concept I came across accidentally and like a lot.

Rav4s are not amenable to improvement with bunches of roses, needing pragmatic cogs and gears (though one could try adornment rather than excessive panel beating costs in the event of a fender bender). It actually transpired today the Rav4 may not be terminally broken…we sold it to a wrecker from Gore who decided at the nth hour that he would like to have the registration transferred, as his son might be able to return the car to functional by scavenging a clutch from another vehicle and doing the fix-it job.

We could be annoyed to find out that the Rav4 is potentially repairable but we actually feel happy. It seemed a travesty that the otherwise functional vehicle would have to be torn apart. We have neither time, nor skills, nor inclination to figure out a repair so well done the son if he can do it. One person’s broken is another person’s treasure…there may be a plethora of lessons to remember when we consider something broken beyond repair…

Published by janecshearer

I'm a self-employed life enthusiast living in Gibbston, New Zealand

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