Sunday, September 4, 2011

Gleaning the Meaning

I am sitting in an austere classroom, devoid of pictures, color and warmth in a cold, red brick school house at the top of a narrow cobblestone street. There is a high, black iron fence around it with a “playground” in the back, paved over--no greenery, flowers or beauty anywhere, inside or out.

A bell rings out, calling the children in from recess into the dark halls, up the creaky wooden steps into rooms where a stern nun stands at the front of the classroom to continue the lessons, which often turn into an admonishment or humiliation of one or another of the students or the class as a whole. Yet, there is one shining lesson which rays out—I suppose my first memory of being transported in an instant away from the ordinary, and, in this case of that school, perfectly deadening to the spirit.

Once, a small paper book was given out to the children with cream-colored, newsprint pages filled with poetry and reproductions of paintings in sepia tones. This must have been a rare event; maybe happening only this once. Even though the book itself was plain, without color, I remember taking it into my hands with reverence and anticipation. Looking through that book was nourishment for a hungry soul, strength for a growing child, fresh air, light and warmth in the midst of a cold, dark winter. Such are the gifts of beauty.

In this book were paintings and poems:  Rembrandt’s King Solomon in a gesture of sadness and grief, which I somehow recognized; Figures bent over with scythes working in a field—The Gleaners by Millet. There was a softness in the strength of the workers’ bodies, purpose in their efforts, and in the curvature of the lines.  These images and the poems awakened something in me. One of the poems was lovely, and I had the first stanza by heart the moment I read it.

     Hope is a thing with feathers
     That perches in the soul
     And sings the tune without the words
     And never stops at all. (Emily Dickinson)

These images and words were speaking to me from a place that was not here, and through them, I could enter that place. 

I found then, and since then, that the arts are rain and sun surrounding and penetrating the shell that threatens to form around the seed of soul…a seed that is meant to sprout, stem, leaf, bud and bloom. It seems that so much in life would have the shell harden and become impenetrable. That potential blossoming, however, becomes more probable with nurturing love and kindness, but it happens most immediately and mysteriously through the arts, which are the essence of life; expressions of the human experience, collectively and individually, of what we see, intuit, remember, and all that can be felt imagined and dreamed--filling the world with all forms of color, light, music and meaning.

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