Today, you get to come along for my thought process. And it’s Friday the 13th.
I’ll let you decide whether to be afraid.
A friend wrote, “Rode my bike to the food pantry today and just the breeze and sun shining and everyone caring makes me hopeful, if but for a moment.”
To which I responded, “They’re all just moments.”
Then I thought, “My gosh, I’m right! They are all just moments!”
My favorite painting in the world is A Sunday on the Island of Le Grande Jatte–1884 by Georges Seurat.* This painting, which lives in the Art Institute of Chicago, is 207.6 × 308 cm (81.7 in × 121.25 in). I’m 68 inches high myself. It’s an enormous work, taking up a whole wall. Seurat used a technique which subsequently would become known as “Pointillism.”
In layman’s terms, he created a scene –almost seven feet by over ten feet–composed of dots. This blows my mind. I have spent, cumulatively, literal hours in this particular room at the Art Institute, moving from one viewing position to another, slowly shifting from the vantage point at which the dots are dots to ones at which my brain registers these dots as a scene in Paris, a woman with a monkey and a parasol, a man reclined in the grass smoking a pipe.
Here’s my deep, dilettantish insight: the dots are the woman and the man and the monkey.
Okay, track with me. I’m a self-acknowledged dilettante of painting and fine art. But I take myself a little more seriously as a writer and, truth to tell, as one seeking to love and be loved, to be a Jesus follower. I don’t have pretensions that I’m excelling at the fine art of living; I am hopeful that, through living this life, I will help a few others believe they are loved.
Back to my thought process. Almost immediately after I had my “ah-ha” moment about moments, I read this quote:
First, I am a fervent fan of “sincere sarcasm.”** Sincere sarcasm allows those of us who want to spend our lives affirming others a tone we can employ which keeps the recipient from needing to fend off our encouragement. It also prevents our being dismissed–along with our message–for being too maudlin or sentimental. There is a time for a sincere compliment and a time for sincere sarcasm; the fine art of living that I practice knows the difference.
If I tell you, “You should pay attention to the trees and how they sway,” that won’t come across as strongly as this sincere sarcasm. Yeah, I know you’re doing some things with your life. You’re raising children and puppies and yourself. You’re working and taking risks and surviving trauma and playing the lottery of relationships. Good fucking luck to you. I think your courage is mind-boggling.
And also, if you’re not paying attention to trees and how they sway in the wind then what are you even doing?
Do you see?
They are all just moments. I can stop to look out our back window at the stunning dogwood tree that, for these few weeks in spring, explodes pink and dashes color into our lives. Those buds will fade and the rest of the year it will be a tree like other trees. I’m soaking up every moment of pink splendor. But the droopy evergreen next to it is also swaying in the wind, right now. Right now, out my back window.
They’re all just moments. The moment you hug your daughter. That moment you laugh with your friend. The moment I sit by Annalise’s bed in the Emergency Room. The moment I drop my grumpy teenager off at school and he murmurs, “Love you, Dad” before shutting the car door.
We are Pointilism in action. We are painting our lives with dots, with these moments joined together that make the big picture, yet if you freeze them and zoom in close, you can see as individual acts and words and thoughts. We imagine life is stretches of hours and years unbroken. Sometimes imagining the unrelenting ticking of the clock, the passage of time, feels frightening, even oppressive. But we created the construct of time and all agreed to it. It’s only real because we say it is.
Our lives are moments. That’s how we experience life, and therefore, I would argue, that’s what’s real. You know, really real. We count how many years old we are, but you we don’t experience “a year.” We experience a moment. We live a moment. I hope, I pray, that the moments you take reading my words will feel worthwhile, will even help you live your upcoming moments better, more full of hope, more conscious of grace.
I spend a lot of moments shuffling words around. Sometimes–okay, often–our dog Mumford will come up and demand that I rub his ears. I do it, even when I’m working hard or feeling brilliant inspiration, because I love Mumford, because Kim loves Mumford at least as much as she loves me, and most of all because if you aren’t paying attention to your dog and rubbing his ears, what are you even doing?
I’m not suggesting that we will stop looking ahead and simply live moment to moment, purely reactive to what comes our way. I’m saying that being more aware that we live moment by moment, even as we look ahead, is a good corrective for our over-balance. We don’t want to miss these moments.
Here are my takeaways. If they help, awesome. If you have others, please share them.
1)Breathe. Just breathe.
2)Don’t let yourself dismiss light simply because there is so much darkness. The points of light count, because the picture is composed of those points. Letting ourselves decide everything is such shit that there’s really no purpose can blind us to the moments, can rob us of the light around us. “The breeze and the sun shining and everyone caring” are real. “If but for a moment,” yes. True. But they are all just moments.
3)Here is the big one. Living Pointilism, taking in each moment of swaying trees and sipping coffee and even standing in line, teaches us to live well, to enjoy living rather than skipping over it for something we wish would come.
CS Lewis, in a letter to Dom Bede Griffiths, wrote
A great many people (not you) do now seem to think that the mere state of being worried is in itself meritorious. I don’t think it is. We must, if it so happens, give our lives for others: but even while we’re doing it, I think we’re meant to enjoy Our Lord and, in Him, our friends, our food, our sleep, our jokes, and the birds song and the frosty sunrise.
As about the distant, so about the future. It is v. dark: but there’s usually light enough for the next step or so. Pray for me always.
I don’t pretend there aren’t horrors in the world. I know there are, more than I wish I did. You can’t unsee these things. We may give our lives for others–in fact, I suspect we will, one way or another–and (not “but”) we are meant to enjoy. We will do more good for everyone–our loved ones, our children, ourselves–if we do enjoy. Living in the moment helps us to enjoy our lives and, in fact, to notice our lives.
I believe paying attention to the swaying tree, to everyone (or anyone) caring, in this moment, is living. And is true worship of the God who is love.
*This Arts and Culture site is cool because the resolution of the picture adjusts. You can zoom in and see close up of the painting technique in detail. Try it! https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/a-sunday-on-la-grande-jatte/twGyqq52R-lYpA?hl=en
**My son Rowan and I probably didn’t coin this term, but we like to believe we did.