“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” ~ Pablo Picasso.
I am always amazed that my hand cannot produce what my mind sees. I love to draw, and frequently illustrate my lectures with beautiful sketches of human organs. My audience is not as impressed as I would hope. In my mind I draw artistic representations but basically the intent is just to better explain blood flow through the heart, or the amazing working of the clever nephron. There is, they say, a connection between the movement of the hand and the development of memory, so I encourage my students to draw, write, create diagrams to help build up these pathways.
But the trick of art is to have the viewer see what isn’t there, to allow the observer to fill in the blanks, to create an image which allows the imagination to soar. There is a method of teaching drawing, which calls on the right side of the brain instead of the logical, rational left side. But first you have to turn off this dominant side to allow for a far more creative result. It is amazing to see the difference and one day I will try it! But one of the features is looking for the ‘negative spaces’, the spaces in between. I never noticed, until it was pointed out, that in the logo for Fed Ex, the negative space between the E and the x creates an arrow.
When it comes to making the most of life, I find it far more hopeful to think about positive spaces, about those places where you can find joy. One of the places that can always restore depleted energy reserves is Mother Nature, and this week I found a spot in West Palm Beach with an abundance of natural beauty, along with a host of dragonflies, wading birds and even a baby alligator! Nature reminds you to pause and observe. A patient heron can stand motionless for ages, providing endless poses for passing photographers. I also visited the Everglades again, and find I am usually the last to spot the turtle’s head sticking out of the water, missing the bird camouflaged in the clump of sawgrass. We toured the Nike missile site (named for the Greek goddess of victory, not the shoes!) closed since 1979, which chilled me. Each missile carried a nuclear payload with a capability of mass destruction. The guide emphasized that they were designed for defense, not offense since they were placed in the Everglades to counter the possible threat of missiles coming to the US from Cuba. I kept hearing the lyrics of an old Big Youth song: ‘War is ugly’. Thinking of what is currently happening in the Ukraine made the sight of missiles even harsher. But I could turn from the evidence of man’s destruction to gaze at a South Florida sky filled with ominous rain clouds lit up by lightning, not by enemy aircraft or bombs.
There are many sparks of joy in the world, evidence of man’s goodness in the face of atrocities. Communities where simple people find their purpose and create places of warmth and welcome for refugees. People who are celebrated for working for a cause which is bigger than them, leaving a concrete legacy of activism which can inspire new generations. This week I watched remotely as a schoolmate walked across a stage at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. to receive her Centennial Award. To say she slayed it in a stunning red dress and matching heels is to put it mildly. I could see Grace Jones echoed in the way she owned the dress, the stage, the audience.
This was an award based not only on her fabulousness, but on her years of working for the cause, of sitting on boards (surrounded mostly by white men) and reminding them that without inclusivity and diversity, the Parks are not representative of the nation. She persevered and persisted, publishing and pushing for a voice at the table (not a token representation). She and her husband Frank have sparked, ignited and fueled the same zeal in others: to get more people of color active and engaged with the outdoors. And yet there are still many who are not aware that the National Parks are not only places to go and admire the view. The Park Rangers carry the history, they tell the story of the people who came before: the Tequesta and Seminoles who lived in the Everglades for centuries; the Buffalo Soldiers sent to keep the Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks free of poachers and settlers; they curate historic buildings and structures to make sure that history stays alive. So that we will remember and not repeat past mistakes.
It is unfortunate that we need activists to dedicate their lives to causes that we should all share, and they should be celebrated for the sacrifices that they make. We are the beneficiaries of so many untold heroes who turned away from comfortable lives to try to bring justice or freedom to others.
This week we are celebrating the ascent of the first Black female Supreme Court Judge. In the face of some low down dirty questions, Judge Brown-Jackson kept her composure, flashed her ‘Sister-Locks’ and showed her class. She ignored the negative spaces and stayed positive, and will be an inspiration for countless generations of others. After the death of Madeline Albright, I heard a story she told that her granddaughter could not understand what was the big deal about her grandmother: ‘Aren’t all Secretaries of State female?’. Maybe one day we will say the same of the Supreme Court Judges!
This Friday morning I hope you can find a way to maintain optimism despite the challenges; may you find inspiration in the way that others choose to live their lives and follow in their footsteps; and may you find much to celebrate, for after all, it is still a beautiful world.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!