My middle daughter and I spent Thursday visiting the works of Marc Chagall, Georges Seurat, El Greco, Georgia O’Keefe and a bunch of other artists. I’m not schooled in art enough to speak eloquently of the works we saw, but I will tell you that when we entered the rooms that housed van Gogh and Monet at The Art Institute of Chicago, my eyes became wet. “What is this liquid eking from my eyes?” I asked my daughter, who smiled at me and patted my arm.
I am a crier. It’s what I do. When we watch a movie together, my family tends to look for the tell-tale shaking of my foot that indicates I’m trying with desperation to not sob uncontrollably.
It’s what I do. Emotion comes out of my eyes as often as it does my mouth–wordless emotion that begs no explanation, just an opportunity to express itself. But when it ekes out that way, visibly, it sometimes requires others to be soothed in its aftermath. I’m okay, I tell them, I’m quite alright.
So when I stood looking closely at the works made by these men–stood with my nose measurably close–and peered at gouged and dotted paint and then stood back and looked at what those gouges and dots made and the tears leaked out my wordless cry, I was grateful it was just that daughter and me and no words were required.
But, as I stood in that room, and as I wandered throughout centuries of art made by human hands, the greatness of Maya Angelou, who died only the day before, was tangible in my heart. And the word that came to me, the word that buoyed me, was the word “legacy.”
I’m not going to quote Dr. Angelou to you because you can look her up and buy her books and listen to her voice on tape. But I want you to know what she made me know. Not her words. Not her world view. Not her ability to succinctly and poetically say the thing.
What she made me know is that every bit of it matters. Every bit of your life story, every bit of your understanding, every bit of your being … matters. She was an interpreter of god, God and godliness. She was in touch with what matters and she not only shared that gift, she inspired me to do the same.
What matters, matters.
There is silliness, sin and shame in the world. Enough to be shared equally and in measure. But what do you do with it. How do you use it, how do you overcome it, and how do you express its commonality and its beauty.
Yes, that’s a yellow bed in a blue room hanging on the wall in one of the premier art institutes in the world. And it is phenomenal.
What is expressed in that bed is what is expressed in the quilt made by maternal forebears that is currently on my bed, with a yellow cat curled up on it. It is the legacy of paying attention to the small as well as the great. Just as the glass eyes mastered by Egyptians centuries ago were made in honor of the dead, endure to tell a slice of the story, that quilt will live on to tell a slice of my story.
We are all story tellers here. We are all able to share the small and the significant and to marvel in it all.
This is the legacy of great art. It reminds us to be human, to be kind, to be awed. It is why the poets voice cries out–look! See! Share!
How great are we to have lived in these times, to have seen what we have seen and to have shared what we have shared. Be grateful for the teachers around you and honor their living, tears eking from your heart, to honor their willingness to share their slice of the great story of humanity.
It matters. And so do you.