“The so-called Left-Right political spectrum is our creation. In fact, it accurately reflects our careful, artificial polarization of the population on phony issues that prevents the issue of our power from arising in their minds.”
I remember overhearing a conversation in a coffee shop some years ago where a gentleman said something like this:
“I always have people ask me why I’m so serious. I often overhear people telling their friends not to take ‘this’ or ‘that’ too seriously. And I got to thinking about it. If we need to learn how to not take life so damn seriously, we ought also to learn to not take death so seriously.”
I’m not sure, but it stuck with me. A simple exchange, maybe a completely spontaneous thought from a total stranger I was eavesdropping on – but it stuck with me. I think about it often, especially after losing several friends, relatives, and acquaintances over the past several years. It’s unusual to me – at least intellectually – to be so incredibly afraid of something that literally every single living thing in the cosmos will eventually have to do, which is to die.
Different cultures treat death differently, but there are always common themes of loss, sadness, tragedy and redemption, rebirth, or some form of ‘life after death.’ I’ve enjoyed photographing various rituals and discovering some of the nuances of life and death celebrations in the American Southwest and Mexico.
“I shall not die of a cold. I shall die of having lived.”
I could fill several volumes with images gathered from the All Souls’ Procession. I haven’t made it out to the celebration every single year, but I have missed very few. In more than fifteen years, I still think this is the one that I enjoy the most – a photograph of a random young girl in the middle of 4th Avenue. This wasn’t staged – I just turned around and saw this little girl;she looked at me with my camera turned towards her.
A small moment that I will never forget.
– – –
I was reminded of this painting, based on a photograph, by an unlikely figure: Facebook.
We all have a profile and engage in it’s meticulous, brilliant distraction. Over the past several weeks, I’ve plucked the crust from my eyes each morning and reached over to quell the grating sounds of my alarm clock – which would also be my phone. Usually there’s a recommendation from our social media overlord to reminisce and share an old memory – I’m guessing they’ve been pulling at your nostalgia-strings too. The catch, at lease for me, is that the past twelve months of my life have been, mildly put, troubled.
Facebook’s algorithms have yet to filter out the job losses, financial woes, marital strife, and death. It’s hard to fault an equation for hoisting my life’s misery back upon me, even as I scramble to escape the sense of demoralizing defeat, but there it is, like a mirror, holding your failures as a civilized man right up to your face.
Today, thankfully, brought a different narrative. Rather than a friend-turned-enemy or a recently-deceased compatriot, I was reminded of a painting I’d made and quickly forgot about. I made a simple picture of a crisp, lifeless twig; I was satisfied. The canvas of the earth shifts during the winter time; colors turn from vibrant to monochrome. A very good and close friend, deeply religious, often speaks of God’s divine design, proclaiming that “the colors of His palette never clash.”
I certainly couldn’t be described as a religious or faithful human being, but my friend is right. The colors of the natural world do not compete for glory – they sit side-by-side in exquisite harmony, promoting a sensory experience that is indeed “miraculous,” and can easily be described as “heavenly.”
And now I spread my gospel to you.
“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.”
– – –
This past week I have been spending my days in church; most of that time has been spent tearing it apart.
But no. I’m not a rock star and this sanctuary isn’t a hotel room. I’ve been remodeling it with a carpenter friend who’s been teaching me some of the finer points of woodworking and repair. This week’s project had us redesigning & rebuilding a stage. Sledge hammers and circular saws aren’t anything I ever associated with church when I was growing up. Back then, church was this big room where people mutter the same responses like wind-up toys, kneel and stand over and over, and I always left feeling more perplexed about religion than when I arrived.
Even after being forced into catechism, most of my lingering questions remained unanswered or ignored. The King James Bible isn’t the most relatable piece of literature to a twelve-year-old. Hell, it barely makes sense to most adults. Religion was a frustrating experience altogether, which is probably why I elected to reject religion outright from an early age. I have since made peace with those adolescent frustrations. I still haven’t found god, but I don’t feel like I’m being judged just because I stopped looking. There’s a really big club called the Catholic Church, and I just happen to not belong to that club. And that’s okay with me.
Morality and decency isn’t defined by your faith. It’s defined by your actions. I made a house of worship look a little more grand today, and I have every expectation that the congregation will enjoy the things that I have built for them. At least that’s the hope.
There’s this upright piano that the church is remodeling, too; they’re going to install a keyboard but keep the veneer of the old piano. Keyboards don’t go out of tune quite so easily, and the church had been spending over a hundred bucks a month just to keep the old piano in tune. Earlier tonight, before grabbing my water bottle and coat, I snapped a few pictures of the piano’s interior. I’d never actually seen what the inside of one of those vessels actually looks like, and I thought it was a fascinating, industrial arrangement.