Friday, October 23, 2015

Total Immersion

Years ago, soon after the Alaska SeaLife Center opened, I visited it at night. Very few people were around, and I went downstairs and sat on the bench in front of the big tanks. The lights were dim so the tanks seemed to be glowing, and everything was so quiet. The giant sea lions were swimming around and it was just them and me.

For that time – and I had it all to myself for quite a long time – the SeaLife Center was no longer a sea life center, no longer an aquarium. It was a Temple to the Sea. There was something magical, something spiritual, something incandescent about the experience. I’ve never forgotten it.

Somehow, I had entered the realm of the ocean. If you’d asked me then, I probably would have said I lived in the ocean for that time, felt the water the sea lions felt. Swam smoothly and fluidly. And all I was doing was sitting on a bench.
It was a Golden Moment, those moments I've written about when the universe lets you know that you are in the right place at the right time and all is good with you and the world. In Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog, she says
“…the forward rush of life is crystallized in a brilliant jewel of a moment that knows neither projects nor future, human destiny is rescued from the pale succession of days, glows with light at last and, surpassing time, warms my tranquil heart.”
I live for moments like this! And just last week, I had another.

It was in the Anchorage Museum’s Van Gogh Alive exhibit. Robin and I entered the exhibit and read the introductory panels. It divided Van Gogh’s life into periods and said there would be music to match. I didn’t quite get it, but we sat down in the first room and let the giant slide show happen in front of us. The colors were overwhelming, and the music brought another sense into play. I kept thinking of the Sistine Chapel and how, after restoration, they realized that Michelangelo painted in vibrant colors, that the muted images we were used to were just dust and fading.

But what I really loved was the panel with Van Gogh’s words. He wasn’t just a man of color and paint; he was a man of letters. He expressed himself so well and felt the struggle for the right word the same as the struggle for the right brush stroke.

After a while, I noticed that the other rooms had images, too. I didn’t want to miss anything so I asked the attendant how was I supposed to go through it. She said I should just walk, let each room reach me in a different way. So Robin and I did that. Some rooms filled us up, others gave us a new way to look at the art.
Like the SeaLife Center’s Temple to the Sea, I felt … incorporated into Van Gogh’s world. I can identify with the “otherly mental” of us in the world, and I appreciate the gifts of the double-edged sword. Van Gogh’s creativity was both his pleasure and his pain, and the exhibit was heartbreaking in laying out the evidence of how very good he was … and how bound up that was in his distress and disturbance.

When the mentally ill are only talked about in relation to mass gun deaths, the world can forget the beauty, the poetry, the richness that comes from alternative ways of looking at the world. We need the Van Goghs of the world, and it was just so sad to know that he never felt that. Maybe other people will make that connection, will look at the Van Goghs they know and … accept them, encourage them.

I came right home and started reading Lust for Life, Irving Stone’s book about Van Gogh’s life. The book emphasizes Van Gogh’s social conscience, that he could draw peasants and miners because he felt one with them and their struggles. It was that empathy that was first deemed crazy by his contemporaries.

I’ll go back to the Museum. I’ll sit quietly on the bench, immersed in Van Gogh’s world. I’ll cherish his big, awkward heart, lament the tragedy of his pain, and be grateful for the beauty he left behind.

1 comment:

  1. Glad you enjoyed it, Barbara! As someone who works at the Anchorage Museum I'm called upon to take donors through the Van Gogh Alive exhibition . . . I never get tired of being immersed in this artist's amazing work and words.


Sharing Button