Friday, July 27, 2012

A Lady in a Fur Wrap

Long-suffering isn't a term often used these days. And why not? Bad things happen to really great people all the time. It's a fact of life that along the paths we take to secure our future, there will be bumps and obstacles. Yet, let's not forget that we may also encounter an audience along the way. And like hecklers at a comedy club, there will be some who apathetically and selfishly attempt to disrupt what we're doing.

There is no magic button or super power we can take advantage of to avoid these troubles. Being a human means we will chance upon moments that are trying and laced with the self-loathing of others. Even the most famous and successful end up victims. Old adages and silly clichés won't hold the answers or bring restitution. We will have to take each annoying and frustrating encounter step-by-step, pulling from our wisdom, leaning on our ability to be patient, and hoping to find support in our loved ones to make it through. For the fortunate, it may seem laborious to endure the hours and days it can take to break through, but it could be a lot worse. For the less-fortunate, it can be hell and the only resource for strength they can count on is them self.

What's great about bad things happening, though, are the wonderful lessons we learn. When we face trials that challenge us to our very core, we quickly find out what we're capable of accomplishing--of surviving. The wind knocked out of us, the rug pulled from under our feet, the support beams yanked from the walls that surround our lives; we discover what is ultimately most important, cherished, and essential for living. Through it all, we relearn what it means to be truly content. As the world around us shakes violently, the chafe is loosed and the dust that gathered falls to the floor. With our humanity exposed and completely vulnerable, we are given the gift of sight--pure sight.

A Lady in a Fur Wrap, by Doménikos "El Greco" Theotokópoulos (1541-1614), is an oil-on-canvas painting of what is believed to be his long time lover, Jeronima. Typically known for his Biblical themed works that used harsher colors and lighting, El Greco steps away from his usual repertoire to illustrate an individual who is both breathtaking and seemingly timid. With gentle, smooth strokes and subdued shades, El Greco creates a sense of warm beauty surrounded by a shadowy coldness. Clearly, the subject is a woman of some wealth and influence, but again, the story of who she is and what she symbolizes is all in her eyes.

With a piece like this, I'm amazed at the complexity found in its simplicity. It's just a painting of a woman against a dark background. But in the upper right corner, I notice what appears to be the edge of a stone wall or doorway. My senses are then tickled to presume she is outside somewhere, maybe in an alleyway or a dense marketplace at night. And then I'm drawn to her face and eyes, and everything else fades. Her look is deceiving. Is it, "Come hither", or does she know something from experience and is now confronted with eminent peril of which she will triumph because of her resolve?

A close and beloved friend of mine recently went through a long string of heartbreaking and extremely frustrating circumstances. Her life was suddenly halted by an emotional challenge that was nearly too much to bear. And when she began to barely see the light at the end of the tunnel, her personal world took a battering as the selfishness of others kicked her while she was down. Left isolated and very limited, she and her companions did what they could to trek through the muck and mire of what was left of their lives at that time. Recently, however, my friend announced that things were finally coming together and life was slowly working itself back to normal. She was bruised and scarred, but she had conquered forces out of her control. Through the love and support of her friends, through her tenacious will and inner strength, and by finding out how much she was truly capable of suffering through, she not only survived, she triumphed.

When I see this amazing piece of art, I immediately think of my friend. I am sure the same look on the face of this woman can be found on her. My friend is still the same person. Smart, whimsical, charming, full of life and energy, yet now with greater wisdom and a deeper, more determined look in her eyes. The best part about this unfortunate adventure was when she started talking about how things were going to change for the better. It was reasonable for her to feel anger and frustration, but she didn't give in to a victim mentality. She merely reached forward with all her might to emerge from the crater that had pierced her life, and she stood at the edge with a new look upon her face.

I know what she's going to do now. She's going to keep moving forward, never looking back. She's going to be stronger, wiser, and that much more special to those of us who know her.

This is for you, MM.

Friday, July 6, 2012

A Man Looks at the Hudson River from the New York Tower of the George Washington Bridge on Dec. 22, 1936

The hustle and bustle of life moves quickly. If you're not careful or are one prone to misfortune, you're probably going to miss quite a bit of it. There is no replay button or time machine to go back and relive moments of life that should have or could have been lived with gusto. It's just the way things are and along the paths, each of us succumbs to forces we are unable to control thereby skipping passed experiences and memories that would have been cherished. I suppose you could call it fate or karma; the bottom line is you're only able to live if you choose to, moment by moment. Or are we?

There are some who seem to be framed in by the incredible world around them but unable to attain meaningful moments. Dragged down by misjudgment, foolish assumption, or unfair bias, these individuals whoosh by moments in their lifetime that would have otherwise meant more. They are held back by others in their lives simply because they hold themselves to a higher standard, aren't willing to take the same risks, or wish to not be a burden. They are all still unique individuals with talents and worth which would easily be a blessing for many, but the devious, selfish nature of the majority take advantage of their sensitivity, anchoring them to a life that is mediocre and wrought with loneliness.

Each of us has choices. Unfortunately, most choose to ignore nobility and meekness. In the shadows and around corners not often traversed are the souls of amazing people who just wish to please. They are kind, they are motivated, and they are filled with the strongest hope any human can imagine. In the eyes of those who are ultimately insecure and threatened, they are mocked and disregarded as weak. But it's when no one is looking that their true colors shine. Stopping to admire a view, enjoying the scent of a flower, seeing an object that reminds them of someone special; they are the true embodiment of what most outspoken and far more popular people claim to admire. But claiming isn't enough and all too often, they are just words. Holidays, birthdays, get-togethers, all kinds of special and meaningful social activities occur and left out are the "odd-balls." It's been that way for eons. There, on the precipice of what could be a more fulfilling life for everyone are the folks who just don't fit in, aren't regarded in social circles, and are often ignored or forgotten. Forlorn, each one of them hurts, but it's not often you would know. It's just not in their nature to tell.

A Man Looks at the Hudson River from the New York Tower of the George Washington Bridge on Dec. 22, 1936, by Jack Rosenzwieg (unknown date birth) of the Associated Press, courtesy of the New York City Municipal Archives, is a black and white image of a man gazing out over the Hudson River towards New York City. Thought to be one of several archival photos meant to capture New York's ever-growing expansion, the piece gives both graphic engineering detail of the George Washington Bridge as well as an idea of how the NYC skyline looked in 1936. Even more tantalizing is the vivid detail of the photo almost giving the viewer a sense of color in the steel and sky. Capturing a lone man standing on the relatively newly built bridge, Rosenzwieg froze a moment of time and history that can mean so much more to the discerning eye: What it's like to feel insignificant in a giant world.

The Industrial Revolution was a marvelous time of tenacity and ingenuity. With great detail, we're able to see just how precise and rigid things were built during that era. Lighting was nearly perfect for this shot and with the haze blanketing NYC in the background, the picture ends up embodying more than just a record of man's greatest achievements. It also captures what it's like to be someone right in the middle of an amazing life but for the fact that he is on his own, alone, and unbeknownst to anyone else around him. Faceless, shadowy, he rests against the frames of what is his life at that very moment in time watching a burgeoning metropolis go about its business, nary a thought dedicated to him.

Who is he? What are his thoughts?

Does it matter?

You know, being charitable doesn't mean you are noble. Millions of faceless people all around the world are blessed through the spirit of giving found in others, yet some of those same people who share their wealth are the ones who ignore the face right next to them. Signing the check to help those ravaged by hunger and then off to a party to behave as peacocks and celebrate popularity. Oh no, wait! Let's update our Facebook pages with images. Let's hoist our fun into the faces of everyone else without regard to our audience. Because being self-absorbed and broadcasting our in-the-moment moments are just fine and what others should be doing, too. Right?

But what about the guy on the bridge? He's not a charity case but what surrounds a man does not make the man. Strip away his life, his job, his clothing, his home and expose his core. What you have left is another human being, pumping the same colored blood through his veins, feeling the same feelings you and I do, standing there utterly vulnerable and merely hoping to be appreciated. Merely hoping the staring faces around him won't begin to laugh as they have so many times before.

Take time to appreciate those around you who don't have as much. Cast aside ill-conceived notions of possession, ignore stereotypes, and refuse to give in to your own fears and insecurities. Just be good at heart and to all mankind. That's it.