Few will wish for January leftovers when something fresh and piping hot from February’s skillet of life is so readily available. But here I am anyway. Still in January. Because sometimes, leftovers are good. And my January leftovers were very. So very very, I’m finding them difficult to toss out with February trash.
My feelings on January’s rightness and goodness don’t arise out of the usual ‘feel goods’ we pick up like lint from life when doing right by others, — like helping Sis paint our aunt’s living room last month — or giving Amy what I believe may have been the best birthday gift I could have given — or helping Kara with the before and after gearing up and tearing down of my granddaughter’s Reese’s first birthday party — you know, those sacrificial acts where we lay down ourselves and our own plans to serve others, only to walk away with hearts strangely light, lugging more love than we left in our wakes.
No, January was memorable for reasons much to do with the way my life carried on the most delicious dialog with works of art. I watched films galore and read books and went to the art museum and lived my everyday life in between it all. And I noticed something along the way as I was attending my private January Art Festival of Life: I noticed, for the first time in forever, how art informs life and how life informs art — and how it does this everyday, whenever we bring the two together. And I noticed how art doesn’t just inform, but how it helps us sometimes to even conform, softening our hearts to receive messages that life alone just can’t.
When my husband asked me his leftover question last month — the one posed last winter, and the winter before that and the winter before that — if it wasn’t time for us to make our own funeral arrangements? — I finally talked to him about it. I looked him in the eye and begin thinking out loud about what I want to happen and what might help the children, when the time comes — rather than responding as I have for the last three times with a ‘yes I suppose so’ but then doing nothing to make good on that supposed-so yes.
Did this new receptiveness arise out of the recent death of his mother? No — not even close. I listened to that tired, wilted question only because I had spent five evenings in January watching films where Death played a leading or supporting role — films like “The Winter Guest” and “Wit” and for the second time, “The Hours” and “Marvin’s Room” and “Evening.” And I don’t know why I ended up watching so many beautiful stories about death. I only know, that in ways I cannot fully explain, those movies helped pave the way for me to finally hear my husband’s hard-to-face question.
Another art-life conversation grew out of last week’s surprising encounter with a wasp. I was stung Tuesday. Then stung again by words I read on Wednesday — another live-giving passage from An Altar in the World — on the importance of feeling pain. And as my index finger throbbed and itched and swelled with leftovers of wasp venom, I endured the discomfort rather than easing it with a dose of Advil. For three days I lived with a pain that spoke of my humanity. I heard little whispers — like how wasps are worth my awareness — how hurting is helpful, because the pain shows us we are still alive, whether our injury is physical or emotional — how life goes on even when injured and even when death is the outcome. It’s an old lesson that we must learn over and over to death because it never quite sticks. And who could have imagined that a wasp would come out of its hive in January to begin teaching me this lesson on pain and humanity and life and death?
January has borne witness to many exchanges between art and life. Too many to tell but for one more — about that pretty antique mesh purse, made of German Silver, featured in the photo above, that became Amy’s birthday gift two weeks ago — that needs to be shared. The purse came from a collection my mother treasured — which is funny in itself, because Mother not only never carried purses, but she never cared for glitzy, fancy stuff. She preferred a life of everyday casual — she dressed herself in many-times washed denim — she never wore cosmetics — and kept her hair cut in a carefree style that allowed her to leave the house with minutes notice.
Anyway, Mother left her prized collection of purses to my sister, who has been trying ever since to sell them to whoever might want them. And I don’t know why I finally connected Amy to Mother’s purse’s collection, but I believe it had much to do with immersing myself in art. I was helping Sis paint our aunt’s living room when the dots began dancing together in my mind: I was thinking about Amy’s upcoming birthday…what special thing I might give her as a gift… then I remembered Sis’s unwanted inheritance and how Amy had just borrowed my copy of “Midnight in Paris” which featured an actress portraying a flapper carrying a purse similar to handbags in Mother’s collection. And somehow, all these leftover dots of dialog came together — and just like that — I had Amy’s perfect birthday gift. Not only was I giving Amy something she would love, but I was giving her something Mother loved, and something my sister did not — making it a special, three for one moment that forms a perfect trinity.
And now, January is all used up. The month — full of moments mixing magic and mystery — is over. And there’s nothing I can do about it. Nothing at all. Except live like it’s still January — by regarding this new month as a new little art festival of life. So, then.
Hello, February. How good of you to drop in for a visit. No, I know you can’t stay long. But have a seat, won’t you? Now tell me — have you read any good books lately? Seen any good movies? Oh, “Hugo” — yes, of course, I saw “Hugo” the last day of January. Of course, in 3-D! Hey, any thoughts on who might win the Oscar for Best Picture? Oh, yes, I know you know and can’t tell. But, what? You think that ending scene of “Hugo” — showing a close-up of Martin Scorsese’s automaton — looked a little like ‘Oscar’ too? Oh, I can’t wait to see what happens. What’s that? You want to know what’s going on in my life? Oh, I see — you’re just trying to change the subject — but I’ll be a gracious host by saying — oh, lot’s. Lot’s is going on. And we’ve all month to talk about it.