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.

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