I was exchanging texts this morning with fellow artist Kerri Hoskins Branson about a painting project we’re working on together through Water Street Studios, the artist’s collective where we both have gallery and studio space.
I profiled Kerri in this blog a couple years back. She’s been a runner and done martial arts training. She also played the role of Sonya Blade in the game Mortal Kombat, has been a model and a mom and even ran for political office at one point.
From any perspective, she’s lived a couple lifetimes already. Several years back she felt a drive to begin painting, and like her mother, discovered she has artistic talent and a strong drive to express herself. Since that time she’s been doing shows and her work now sells for thousands of dollars.
She never sits still, you might say. Because she’s also invested another lifetime within her own raising four children, two of whom have severe physical disabilities. The challenges of raising those children have not been light. Her husband Scott Branson and she have literally had to parcel their lives out, trading time and duties and responsibilities to make it all work.
Paths in life
You can imagine that’s no easy chore. There was no way those two could imagine the path on which live would take them. The boys have required extensive medical help, and those decisions are not simple, and take will and courage to achieve.
Today while on their way to the hospital for a consultation with physicians about surgery for one of their sons, she snapped a photo above and sent it to me. It captures one of those moments in traffic when, if you’re driving, you don’t dare study the scene too long. But when you’re the passenger, and big life decisions are running through your head, it’s funny how the very touch of light in the morning can capture a mood.
And having been through plenty of consultations about surgeries and tough decisions during eight years of cancer caregiving for my late wife, I know those trips in the car on the way to see the doctors can be difficult. All the thoughts of risk and reward go through your brain. The first thing you want to know is, “Will it work?” The inevitable next question is always, “Will it be safe?”
You almost feel like as if you’re in a different realm when making such difficult considerations. The rest of the world seems to buzz around you on its own time and schedule, unconcerned that you are in emotional pain or consternation. Indeed, people seem so completely ignorant of the types of realities you might be facing. But unless you tell them, how could they know?
Well, that’s the issue isn’t it? As supposedly intellectual creatures, we should know better. Yet so many people seem to encounter the world in numb and number fashion. Most folks simply do not consider the meaning of life. Its precious flavor.
Which means that the significance of their own mortality completely escapes them.
Distractions from life
Instead, the world offers up violent entertainment to fill that tender void where recognition of our own mortality should reside. It seems the human race will do anything to escape recognition that we’ll all die someday.
Take for example the spectral sport of NFL football, which has become a religion of sorts, rife with tribal symbolism, a brand of nationalistic fervor and stoked up masses as passionate as a Hitler rally. Some call it harmless fun.
But distractions of that level create parallel realities. And the sport has oozed out like a pool of blood across the media landscape, spreading from pre-season to regular season to post-season. Then it continues from draft to NFL combine to European games and beyond. Like a tool of the devil, football drives gambling and cannot stand to go a week without begging attention from the masses. And when fans aren’t watching, millions play video versions of the sport. And when they’re not playing video football, they’re using the toggle in splatter games that mimic killing. Because anything’s better than being left alone with the thought of your own mortality.
It’s a confusing scenario for us all. We need distractions because entertainment is simply part of human life. But when we confuse our entertainment for reality, that’s when the humanity of our existence gets lost in the shuffle.
Because all that stimulation is to protect people from the passive, neglected boredom they might otherwise feel with their own lives. One of the artists from the famous Wyeth family that includes painters N.C., Andrew and Jamie once said there was no more reason to paint if you watched an NFL football game. “How could you even compete with that powerful imagery?”
Vicariousness is a disease of the American mind, and too many Americans as a result, take their own lives for granted. That’s why they are so liable to hand their futures and fortunes over to people who sell bombast and conflict as part of their persona. That’s how our electoral processes have turned into selfish grabs at power, and displays of prejudice. Conservatives love to blame liberalism for the so-called “decline of America.” But if you study how politics really got where they are, it is not liberalism, but ignorant selfishness, distraction and vicarious power mongering that is leading the way to America’s intellectual and moral decline.
We should know better
We really should know better. Especially you and I. There is no more powerful experience than running or cycling (or whistling…) past a graveyard to adjust your perspective. At that moment you realize what the phrase “the quick and the dead” really means.
There is a small gathering of gravestones on a small rise in the land far out in the country where I ride. They often show light and dark in the morning sun as I ride past. Those stones are silent except for the names and dates on their faces. There is a conversation there to be had, if one stops by. And I have done that. The words say MOTHER or FATHER, SON and DAUGHTER. Some stones date from the 1800s. They have sat in that loamy soil so long the rest of the dirt around them has sunken or blown away. Over the years, human activity has worn down the land. The dead have risen up not by coming back to life, but by our own obsessive activities all around them.
And then we all go there, one way or another. Either we are buried or are turned into ashes and cast unto the wind.
But that should make you feel more alive, not fearful of death. Because do what you will, you cannot change the time when you will die. But you can change the quality of life that you will live.
I’ve long said my favorite line in literature is this, from the book Ambiguous Adventure, by Cheik Hamidou Kane: “The purity of the moment is made from the absence of time.”
That means time expands when you are doing what you love.
And what better way to describe the experience of running, riding and swimming? The purity of the moment really is made from the absence of time. That’s true in love, and life, and hope. May it be true in all that you do. Live well.