Inside the Light

13 Jan

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For whatever we lose (like a you or a me),
It’s always our self we find in the sea.  ― E.E. Cummings

On my walking tour of Carytown yesterday, Maureen took us by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. As I rounded the corner into the sculpture garden, brilliant cardinal red glass spires, giant slashes against the grey stone building, shot their color upward from the spiky green grass lagoon in front of the museum cafe. It was as if all the color in the landscape had leaked whatever tiny bit of red it might own into those long bloody cat tails piercing the courtyard air. So, this is Chihuly, I thought. Yes, now I remember the glass sculpture of his at the MFA in Boston, that enormous lime green glass tree that literally took my breath away. At that moment I knew I needed to come back today to see the exhibit, even if there was a fee to view.

How can I describe stepping into a darkened cave only to be instantly dazzled by an oceanic outer space world of twisted, ribbed, iridized and marbled glass? Colors so candy-like in their richness, pigments so piercingly pure that the wild assortment of them resembles a pile of enormous penny sweets. The first display, two boats, one filled with various sizes of miniature glass globe planets brought to mind a metaphor: the universe as a ship carrying multiple worlds, souls upon souls, all unique yet common in their fragility. The second ship sprouted tentacles and hotly colored sinuous arms in a wild array of movement. Both skiffs set afloat on a great dark sea of the universe, an outer space garden joined in light and motion against the soft black of emptiness.

I felt swimmy……the light of the Persian ceiling rested on my shoulders like a soft mantle as I walked under  clouds of seaweed and twisted creatures in a surreal invertebrate universe. Amorphous hollow half globes glowed palely in the adjacent room, their sides undulating in opalescent white like moonlit cacti in a winter desert. Following the landscape into the next room, coral bowls radiant with interior color, seemed to almost breathe as their edges spread against the black air. That glowing, captured within the glass itself, gave the inanimate very real energy and life.

Entering the main hall, the union of turquoise, bronze, gold, black, white, amber, and lime green iridescent hushed the room in tranquility. In an oxygen aquarium, I circled the centerpiece like a koi in a pond, hovering here or there to catch a glimpse of shadow within the sparkles of light.

As I sat on a bench to the side, a subtle bittersweet thoughtfulness fell over me. I began to think about a conversation that I had held with a friend of mine the night before. We had been talking about travel experiences, those that had really transformed us. He told me about having had the opportunity to go to the Amazon rain forest to film indigenous tribes there and the amazing lessons their stories, culture, and the landscape had shown him. But there was a moment where he paused and I could see something that seemed hard to express appear in his memory. He said,

How do you still own a moment when the person you shared it with goes away? How can I hold on to an experience, so amazing and yet, not feel the pain of losing the person who shared it with me?

This splendor of glass and light brings to my mind an understanding from his question. Beauty and fragility are sometimes one in the same. The purest moments are sometimes those which can be broken most easily and so we should take care to protect them. I often think perhaps  we should just remember the moment only, forgetting the before and the after. For only in the moment is the purest truth and nothing can change its capture. Like these bent and twisted, but unique fragile sculptures, the moment of beauty and truth is caught when the heat begins to subside. It hardens around the moment of passion that made it, almost stopping it in time like a beloved memory. None of the beauty is lost inside of it. It’s only the reflection against the past, against the future, which can evoke the pain of loss. In a way, maybe we should learn to be inside the light of memory, love it, and then leave the joy of it there to go back to rather than trying to drag it with us to pale against the present.

For when we drag out the joy, we lessen its brilliance. We spiderweb crack the moment by making it larger than it was and eventually what we’ve accidentally made in passion and inspiration, like hot blown glass, we destroy instead of keeping as a beautiful manifestation of the light of life. I often feel so sad about the way we handle each other’s fragile hearts. Over time, with repeated cracking and careless handling, placing it upon a shelf seems the only way to keep it whole. But my granny used to think that you should use your best glassware and china, because it showed people you loved them everyday, not just on special occasions. And if something broke well, you remembered the use that broke it and that might make you feel better. And of course in the memory, it’s there unbroken …forever.

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