Walking Wabi-Sabi

This afternoon, my business partner Keith and I went to Gersons looking for a door handle for our clinics bathroom. Gersons is located in South Tucson in the industrial district and salvages used furniture, building materials and other various items that can be purchased for a fair price. The materials there are old, but functional, rescued from a premature burial in some landfill graveyard. As one worker quipped to us, as we strolled across the vast, dusty outdoor warehouse, “You never know what you’ll find here.”

I like going to these types of places. I like to rummage through thrift stores and imagine just where all the things I see there came from. I don’t mean places like The Buffalo Exchange, where the clothes are more expensive than Banana Republic, but the type of thrift store that is actually selling used things to people who shop there because that’s what they can afford, not because it is trendy. Walking into Value Village or Saint Vincent’s DePaul is like walking into a time warp to my grandmother’s house in Queens, New York, twenty years ago. It feels and smells old. The air is thick with age and memory and if I listen just right, I can hear my grandmother yelling in Italian and smell the sauce cooking on the stove. Just who wore these old clothes? Who wore down the cushion in that old recliner that sits empty amongst other old and unfashionable sofas and loveseats? These pieces cling to the lives of their former owners in the wear of their fabric, even if they can’t tell the tale to us. Why is the right armrest of that sofa more worn than the left? And how did that stain get in such an out of the way place as the rear fabric of that tired loveseat?

What’s interesting to me when looking at used clothes and furniture, things made before American companies started the vast shift in labor to cheaper markets overseas, is the care put into the manufacturing of these goods. The stitches are stronger, the seams tighter. An old cardboard box that was once used to ship Clinger brand staplers out of Burton, Pennsylvania and now houses used electrical breakers on a creaky supply shelf at Gersons, makes me think of how far we have come from the time when American workers where paid a decent wage for decent work. Today, I can’t even get a true hit for ‘Clinger Staplers’ on a Google search, lost into a void that has swallowed jobs, lives, time and the American Dream.

Wickipedia describes wabi-sabi as “a comprehensive Japanese worldview or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience…the aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete” (according to Leonard Koren in his book Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers)”. This is the overriding sense at a real thrift store. Your new, funky button down shirt was once an old mans finest church wear. And that stain on the back of the sofa is from when a woman tripped over the cat while walking with her coffee to watch Bob Barker on Family Feud. If you pay attention in these places, you are walking wabi-sabi. It is an experience, not a worldview. We are born, grow old and we die. Those are the rules. But when we look just right, we can see the past, present and future clearly in the handle of a recliner, and feel the hand of its former owner on ours as we recline it back.

This past Tuesday from 3-7pm, Tucson Community Acupuncture had it’s grand opening and provided free treatments for over 70 people on thrift store recliners. There was an hour wait for a treatment by 3:30. The overwhelming majority of people, probably 75%, had never had acupuncture before. They were the best patients we’ve ever had. They were patient, accepting and grateful. They did not mind the wait and were glad we were there. We have 30 appointments booked and look forward to serving our community the best we can.

“Imperfect, impermanent and incomplete”, Community Acupuncture is the past, present and future of Chinese Medicine. Community Acupuncture is wabi-sabi. We hold a two thousand year old needle in our hands, and the secrets of the ancient masters whisper in our ears. The soul of this medicine is in the service that we can provide to those who need it the most. Always has been, always will be. And in returning to our past, we become the future.

Author: LarryG

CA punk for 12 years. AZ License #600

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  1. Yep, “used” is not a bad word….

    Thanks, Larry, for yet another way to explain the total perspecive shift that community acupuncture not only requires, but offers to us all – practitioners and patients alike.

    Congratulations on your opening….and continued good luck – in the past, present and future…in Wabi-Sabi-Land.

  2. Congrats! And nifty perspective…

    It is neat to think about how so much of what we experience isn’t simply what is around us but what is going through our heads. We can mould anything to be the way our minds want it to be. How neat to be able to walk into a thrift shop and really appreciate it by valuing and honoring its history.

    And… Awesome turnout at your CAP open house! Congrats – you are really on your way! It sounds like your positive vibes and good treatment of people are going to keep them coming. I would love to know how you guys grow – sounds like we’re sort of parallels in different states at the moment! 🙂

  3. imperfect, impermanent, incomplete – and loved

    Nice post, Larry.  It’s interesting to me, several new patients lately have commented on how nice our clinic space is.  Seriously, it is nothing fancy – yellow walls, a little bit of art, a few plants, some raggedy old recliners (each with their own personality) covered with Costco & Ikea blankets, some thrifted & dontated bookshelves and area rugs and chairs…but these folks used words like “oasis” and “sanctuary.”  We haven’t updated anything since we opened 18 months ago, so everything is only more worn in (or out, including the gross industrial carpeting); the only other difference, of course, being the five hundred plus people who have gotten treatments here over that course of time.  Sure, gentle lighting is our friend, but there’s also a nice Velveteen Rabbit effect going on too, I think, that folks can pick up on, and contribute to.  (Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s 80 degrees in the treatment room and currently 105 outside – yikes!)

  4. Congratulations!

    Larry, Keith

    Congrats! This is so cool! Kris and I have so many questions, if you don’t mind some observers one day we would love to come down for a visit. My turn to buy a round for your time.