Early last year, I was editing some photographs and happen to show one to a then friend of mine. It was of a dead leaf, similar to but not the same as the ones above. People who know me well know that small moments of nature impress me, move me, capture my attention. I’ve had my share of jokes and comments about being weird, most of them oddly funny and harmless. Most. Not all. This was an old friend of mine, someone I hadn’t seen in many years, a person I’d gone to grade school with, someone I’d reconnected with via social media. We’d been to the same schools, grew up in the same cultural environment, known many of the same people even after leaving school. I was happy to have reconnected with her at the time. We discussed many things in catching up, our mutual love of art, of great food. We remembered each other’s parents and siblings and shared some very funny stories.
The photo I’d shown her was one of my favorite. It was a leaf edged in brown (as those above), crisp along the edges and stemless. What appealed to me when I first saw the leaf were the speckles of black, brown and deep forest green, the brilliant oranges and reds that still resided in the core of the leaf, and that it was alone on the ground, isolated from all that it had ever been with, left by the world to die alone. I found this somewhat enchanting, and that it had perhaps inspired me to write a short story. There was much there, I’d thought, memories, holes near the veins, a codex of chirping birds, squirrels scurrying up and around it as it lived in the safety of the mother tree, winters of snow and frost yielding to the cool breezes of spring and the healing rays of summer sun, over and again until here it was, on the ground, alone, ready to leave the world as one form and become another. I saw the death in the leaf, of course, but also – first and most important to me – I saw incredible beauty, wisdom and transformation. It never occurred to me that someone else would feel moved in a different direction.
My then friend did not agree with my vision. All she saw was ugliness and death. I’m used to people not agreeing with my concepts, that they don’t see what I see. I’m an artist and writer, not a politician. Somewhere in the thick of my weird and wonderfully strange childhood I made a not so conscious decision to follow this path – crooked though it might have been – and I am still on the road, traveling for a long time and with no intention of stopping. I will stop at the end of the road when it reveals itself as the end and I can no longer take even one more step. Not until then.
We are all so different, aren’t we? This makes us interesting. We are, each of us, teachers and students at the same time. Our past loves and heartaches shape us. We are the product of our experience and our beliefs. Diversity contributes more to the creation of ideas than sameness. Ideas keep us alive and thriving. Control of ideas, however, does not. But, back to my then friend and the dead leaf photo…
What I hadn’t expected in her dislike of my photograph was the depth of her disdain and what was, apparently, a hatred of this leaf and all that she felt it represented to her. Generally, I don’t like indifference – it is often a coward’s way out – but I would have welcomed that at this time. I was ill prepared for such a reaction to a photograph of a leaf. Her response was laced with anger. “Oh, how can you look at this?” She’d said sharply. “It’s a dead leaf! It actually makes me sick.” More than her loud, sharp words, I remember the tone of her voice, her annoyance at the idea that I would even show her such a thing. We were on the phone. I could almost hear the snap of every syllable as they leapt out of her cell phone, raced along as radio waves and then thunked hard and heavy into the ear buds in my ear. They squealed as they funnelled themselves through the narrow cord into the ear buds themselves, like invaders from a surprise and hostile galaxy. And that is when I should have known. But I ignore that crazy little voice that says……hang up.
“Look how intense the colors are. I love them.” I’d offered softly, or something close to that as I recall. “I’m sorry. I didn’t expect that reaction.” I added, not sorry at all but trying for politeness from one of us. Maybe she was having a bad day. Maybe, I thought, there is something I don’t know. She made that awful sound in the back of her throat, that deep guttural clearing of her throat that is meant to project disgust. (Disgust over a photograph of a leaf. Really.) “I can’t believe you like this leaf! It’s awful!” She exclaimed. “I actually have a headache from it.” “Oh……….” I stammered, and she remained upset at what was something that someone else had already offered to buy, and I could not understand this at all. She prided herself on intelligence, on elegance and charm. Yet, here she was ignoring the fact that this was a part of my art. And then…after a few more conversations…after giving her the benefit of the doubt (why, oh why, oh why)…after visiting and looking at the world around her in its lush divorce-won abundance….after comparing where each of us had ended up at this stage of our lives…listening to comment after repeated comment about how she could offer me lessons on better choices, most subtly delivered …watching her in a bar as she stared at a man and his wife, a couple having a lovely evening, as she flirted with him (he kept looking away to avoid her glances) and continually saying things like “I could get him. I’m prettier than she is.”, and after listening to story after story of how her ex boyfriend wouldn’t return her repeated and incessant phone calls, I began to understand. Here she was, accomplished on some levels, having so much and none of it was enough to satisfy what was so obviously a deep and unhealed self. You do not really know anyone until you spend time with them, live with them or see them in their broken state. Telltale signs appear. Wisdom is knowing how to spot them and having the courage to walk away. I was a little slow on the wisdom with this one but managed to rally. We can not heal other people. We can only decide whether we want to stay in the room with them when they decide to admit that they have fallen apart and need healing.
There are two types of people I know of. One is the type of person who sees beauty, if not in all things, then in something, somewhere, even in the bleakest of times. That type of person chooses joy as much as possible. That person fills themselves with love and personal freedom while kneeling to the holiness of others, cries and laughs without shame regardless of circumstances, and develops the desire to help others reach their potential instead of asking them to yield to their own beliefs. That person looks within for what they seek and centers themselves in order to see the world around them in its fullest, and decides daily to accept accountability for choice and intent toward others knowing we are all connected. We are mirrors. We are kin. If we are miserable, it will send out a wave of misery and reach to the far corners of everything and poison the landscape. That person grieves their losses and stands up to take that step forward.
The other type of person sees only the coating of beauty, the shiny newness of things but never the substance. They care little about truth, only about expectation. When they look behind someone’s eyes, they see themselves, not what is really there which is the soul of the other person who is connected to them in a web that is designed to provide all with what is needed, wanted, and created by them. They have an answer for everything, therefore there is no need to inquire, to learn more or to exist for the sole purpose of experience and for the joy of loving for the sake of love itself. It is all planned out, the routine of expectation, of control and hostility that taints and discourages creativity – unless, of course, there is a monetary value placed upon it. That type of person is filled with angoisse toxiques – a toxic angst – because they have been wronged. The world has not given them what they were due and in retaliation, they refuse to see what is in front of them and set out to ruin what others have and will not give them, saying all the while that they do not want it. What they want is the other person’s joy because they can’t find their own. What is in front of them is real life. It is in front of every one of us. What is required is to see it, embrace it, and begin to say Yes.
As you’ve probably gathered, my then friend is no longer a part of my world, although in knowing that we are connected as living beings I am also reminded that she and I are simply two different points of view, two different choices on how to see the world, on how to walk down that road toward an inevitable ending (Yet, since I don’t know everything, I must say that I don’t know whether there really is an actual ending or not). We are, perhaps not so different in many ways. We are, however, different in how we see a leaf – I know that for sure – how we see the layers of life and in our expectations of others, of reward and consequence of choice. I guarantee you she doesn’t agree with any of what I’ve said. She would tell you that I am in denial, that she could help me find a third husband, that she knows better than I do how I should live my life for complete fulfillment.
And so, I wonder…..which one are you? How do you see yourself? Are you entitled or grateful? Are you a half full type of person, or half empty? Who do you believe creates your life? You? Or some “other”? Let me know. I’m an artist and writer. I’m curious to the last breath.