Sunday, November 20, 2011

Freedom from Want

There is an idealistic belief that all mankind should not have to experience a life riddled with incentives that perpetuate an innate desire to be better than others.  At face value, this ideal could be argued and it could very easily be pointed out that most of mankind is in the pursuit of something greater.  But think about it for a moment and from the perspective of motivation.  Think about what you have for a moment.  Are things really that bad?

Recent press has been littering the proverbial front pages of the news with stories of protests and large masses of people gathering together to voice their amalgamated opinions of disagreement which often make little to no sense.  As if to say a mob-mentality is infectious, civil disobedience appears to be all the "rage" (pun intended) and as of today, has shown little to no effect upon the economy and society.  From what I have gathered, it would seem these adamant throngs of individuals want what the inaptly titled "1%" have which essentially is more money.  Some impassioned folks may wish to argue this with me but if you boil it down, it appears to me those folks are crying out, "I want what those guys have!"

In the United States, our holiday of Thanksgiving is quickly approaching and signifies a time in which we celebrate all the things we're fortunate to have.  This concept has evolved from its 17th Century origins of giving thanks for a bountiful harvest but the intent is much stronger and just as noble.  In it of itself, Thanksgiving is typically a pleasant family affair where a large feast is prepared and those gathered at the table, in some way, acknowledge all the things they are fortunate and thankful to have.

Sadly, this holiday has become a near laughing stock and most certainly in some cases, a day that is mocked either directly or indirectly.  It has become a holiday where some are merely going through the motions of being thankful or more so enjoying the food rather than the meaning.  It has become a holiday vastly overshadowed by the proceeding month's celebration of Christmas and the onslaught of retail companies pushing for sales earlier and earlier each year.  It has become a holiday that feels more like a nice, long weekend break from work or school rather than a time where we should be humbling ourselves.  It has become a holiday of gluttony and football.

Freedom from Want, by Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) is an oil on canvas painting of a typical Thanksgiving feast which was featured in the March 6, 1943 issue of The Saturday Evening Post.  Wonderfully patriotic, nostalgic, and cheerful, Rockwell illustrates a typical family of that era sitting down together to smile, laugh, share moments of their lives, and partake in a meal that is plentiful.  Ideology and stereotypes aside, this type of illustration was quite popular for a very long time and considered an American classic both by implied meaning and artistic standards.

With the satisfactory smiles of the grandparents at the head of the table to the delightful grins of the family seated around, the true meaning of Thanksgiving and the ideals of freedom from want are wonderfully displayed in this deservedly timeless piece.  With a very Puritan flare, Rockwell's words, "I paint life as I would like it to be," resonated in this painting through the pro-family homeliness and prosperity that is being shared with simplicity.  You will notice that the food appears fresh, there is no alcohol, the TV isn't on nearby, and the table is properly set with careful consideration.  Though the family illustrated may not be as realistic today as it may have been in the 1940s, the implied notions of how life should be given homage and thanks are extraordinarily strong.

It is said that this painting is often viewed in the eyes of some foreigners as an example of American overabundance.  This is an unfair and--dare I say--uneducated way to label a culture and completely miss the point of what Rockwell was attempting to portray.  In Roosevelt's State of the Union address in 1941, he discussed four essential human rights as way of inspiring the nation to hold strong during a weary time of war one being the Freedom from Want.  In his speech, Roosevelt said, "In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon ... freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants-everywhere in the world."

Rockwell's sentiments exactly!  A healthy peacetime life!  Not a time where the efforts and money of others benefit your life but a time where your life can be lived with healthy opportunities to succeed, to learn, to prosper, and to enjoy liberty.  A healthy peacetime life that can and should be filled with thanks because you are free to enjoy abundance purely based upon your own resolve and not on the backs or supported by the wallets of others.  I proclaim that Rockwell's meaningful illustration and the very essence of our fights for freedom for all mankind are to be celebrated and acknowledged not just on Thanksgiving but each and every day you are alive.

I am thankful for my family, my friends, my job, my home, my ability and freedom to think, to believe, to yearn, to hope, to work, to strive to better myself for my own sake, and to have the opportunity to share my thoughts.  I am thankful that I am free to be thankful!  Each and every day.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

L'Ange du Foyer

In a metaphysical fashion, he prances about in personality and zealousness. Seeking ways to be seen by those around him, he vividly expresses himself. Deeply desirous of trust, rooted in a need to be relied upon, and hoping to receive the appropriate amount of attention, each of his actions are calculated and determined.

The innocence and genuine quality of his habitual efforts are almost always overlooked. Witty, friendly, a willing giver of hugs at any given frequency, often laying his own safety and future aside for others, he pours his heart and soul into energetically and silently screaming at the world that he's everything he claims to be and more. In some ways, there is a meticulous process to his actions, yet intermingled are moments of spontaneity that derive from the very same passions that motivate him.

Sadly, for most, he is scary. He's loud, abrasive, jagged, and uncouth. Almost overly animated and abstract, he approaches nearly every situation causing others to flinch or recoil. He's at fault for trying too hard, yet his persistence is obvious. So why is he so misunderstood? The old adage says, "It's the thought that counts," but how that is perceived is absolutely relative. If he's truly pure in his intention, that will mean nothing when deemed impure by those around him. Judgment is a cruel beast and carried out by every single living human in one way or another. For him, it's a minute-by-minute experience on levels some won't experience in a lifetime.

L'Ange du Foyer by Max Ernst (1891-1976) is the painting of such a man. Known as one of the great Dada and Surrealism artists of his time, Ernst portrays a vivid creature in a moment of joyous expression. Seemingly alive and grinning, the individual bursts with color, leading with a determined gape of his mouth and a pleasant squint of his eyes, and showing no regard for how he may appear. By human standards, he is, in some ways, horrifying yet ultimately fascinating. He embodies movement and attention-getting displays, yet cannot avoid aesthetic imperfections that may be perfect for him, but uncomfortable for others.

L'Ange du Foyer is roughly translated to mean, "The Angel of the Home (or Hearth)" and is a poignant way of defining the aforementioned man. In some ways--and if taken literally--this angel could easily watch over someone's home with success. Yet, for the home owner, this angel could be a bit too much to take. It calls into question why we as humans, at times, feel unduly exhausted by someone's persona. Shouldn't it always be about who that person is from the heart?

A comment was made to the man that it seemed highly unlikely others could not find him as appealing as the person speaking to him. He chuckled and brushed off the compliment, not to be thankless, but because he knew all too well how others have already treated him. He's been hurt countless times by the comments and actions of those around him, and at varying moments in his life. Yet, each day, he continues to display his true personality, never giving up or forsaking who he is at his very core. He refuses to give in to the pressure to be a certain way that others dictate. Why should he?

Indeed, over time, his antics in the eyes of others--efforts in his eyes--have been shunned and even reprimanded, but as time has gone by, he's learned. He's aged. He's gained wisdom. He's found acceptance and success. Perhaps some may feel it's a little too late, but for him, it's magnificent and humbling. Oh yes, his celebratory reactions are just as bright as his every-day actions, and even those have garnered some dissension. But he hasn't changed. He won't change! In time, he'll slow down with each passing year, but that's purely physical. His heart, however, will remain the fantasy he's harbored and passionately shared with anyone who wished to see it. For that is something no one can or will ever take away from him. And until that heart is recognized for what it really is, he will remain the surreal, uncouth, and misunderstood man he has for far too long.