Monday, October 14, 2013

we will find dying and rising equally assured


Despite outward appearances, I am an artist, not an intrepid polytopian.
--Alex
(photo copyright Peter Ringenberg)

At 11:23am on Sunday, October the Thirteenth, I stamped my foot stubbornly on the resistant cement sidewalks of that encircle the "Venite Ad Me Omnes" statue, and I looked up to the sky and said defiantly to no one in particular, except for perhaps the voices of interior critics in my head:
d-mmit. I am an artist.

And, feeling an immense weight fall off my shoulders into the red geraniums at the base of the statue, I clip-clopped off down the sidewalk to light a candle.
Under the window of my favorite little icebox room, I saw the most brilliant of all fall leaves.
I have been busy.
Too busy, I realize, as I walk briskly by the dazzling display of beauty that blankets the sidewalks and the grass, to pick up a leaf and marvel at it. 
My teal planner is sadly empty of its former scarlet, crimson, and gold inhabitants.
But this leaf.
This leaf was blood red, shot through with veins of a deeper vermillion. Flecks of sunset orange covered the front and streaks of a deep forest green striped its back.
I almost walked by it.
Then I paused.
Picked it up, and smiled.

I heard a voice say to no one in particular: "I do that all the time."
I turned around, and saw an elderly lady smiling at me.
I smiled back.
"I just can't resist them," I agreed.

I walked to my candle.
And I stuck the leaf under the flame, for old time's sake.
But also, because now I felt I had something to actually sacrifice.
My child's play at daily offerings had become something real.
The more precious the leaf, the more dear the sacrifice.

But no matter how dear the offering, I have found there is no perfect sacrifice.
I think that realization came in the moment between lifting my boot off the ground and emphatically stomping it down on the hard ground.
In that moment I realized that nothing I brought into this world, anything I assisted in creating, was ever going to be what I wanted it to be.
Whether created beauty was the tale of three women trekking through their new world, or five other stories I feel starting to manifest themselves in my imagination, or the baby girl that I will one day hold in my arms, nothing I bring into this world will match the ideals I have in my head of what I know it should be and can be.
Even as we catch breath-taking glimpses of that perfection in our creations, I realize that no art will ever live up to ideal of perfect beauty.
Even Venus de Milo loses her arms; a child will make a mistake that makes a mother blush with shame; and our rapacious desires can turn a love that is pure and good into something ugly and bent.

But, not despite of, but because of that, making art, creating beauty, choosing to love, are the greatest goods I can imagine.
In the face of imperfections, to embrace those imperfections, and keep striving for the ideal is the very struggle that is found in the restless heart of life.
Venus de Milo is worth sculpting, even if some fool will break off her arms, and time will erode the crisp lines of her face; a story is worth telling, even if the words are mangled; and love is worth forging, even if it walks the delicate tightrope of virtue that spans the cavernous chasm of our concupiscence.

It is not difficult to bring Good into the world. But it is costly.
The greatest goods we can achieve are those that usually are found on the other side of that cavern, if we are going to find that great beauty, it requires us to keep our eyes fixed on the light that will lead us through the darkness all around us.
They have a saying in the theatre that a final dress rehearsal that is a train wreck portends a good opening night.
Really, they say this because rehearsal is the time that actors set aside to make all their mistakes.
In rehearsal, it is the duty of each artist to make as many mistakes as possible. Through this process of refinement, they come upon that golden moment, that moment of beauty that is at the heart of their art.

But, also, they say this, because it is the nature of the world to fall.
It is the nature of human beings to discover the sort of awfulness we are capable of, we realize that if we are not paying attention, we can flub each line, find ourselves in the wrong spot, forget what we were supposed to say or who we were supposed to be.
We can forget to focus on the story we are telling, we can get so caught up in ourselves and our performance, we forget to assist our fellow actors.
After discovering the sort of terrible mediocrity we are capable of reducing ourselves to, an actor has two options: despair or courage.
Despair says we were never that wonderful in the first place; and isn't it true that human beings should never seek greatness, because we are doomed to failure.
We should be content with an average life of averageness, seeking nothing beautiful beyond the boundaries of the spheres within which our role as placed us.
But courage is when you lose your way, but you keep moving forward and you find that beyond that fall was a resurrection all the more beautiful for having been brought so low.
You find that the day after that dress rehearsal is an opening night, redounding with all the beauty you were seeking.
A beauty which is wise, more intentional, more focused, as we say, as it actively avoids the mistakes and pitfalls it fell into the night before.

The story of Good Friday and Easter Morning is a story that the actor lives out each opening of each show; the story they tell does not return to pre-Good Friday conditions, it becomes something wholly different, something more beautiful, something more wonderful.
The stories we live, create, and share are stories that remake us.
This is the magic of story-telling, the magic of theatre: magic that weaves a story which takes us on a journey into a new world, and into a new self.
It is for that magic that I stomped my foot on the ground at 11:23am, and declared to the silent stone statue that I may be an imperfect human being with a lot to learn, but I was going to transform the world with stories until the day I die.

But since it falls unto my lot
That I should rise and you should not;
Since it has so ordered been
By a time to rise and a time to fall;
I'll gently rise and I'll softly call
Good night and joy be with you all
--The Parting Glass

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