Last weekend in the Pacific Northwest, a curtain of cloud lifted to reveal the Olympic Mountains rising over an inscrutably blue Puget Sound. Rhododendrons burst into giddy bloom. By Sunday evening, loveliness had worked its way into my bones.
So in the small hours of Monday morning when I suddenly woke from a bad dream, I felt betrayed. Like seeping ink, sadness swirled in me and spread. As I got out of bed, it rose and followed me into the sunshine of a new morning.
Later, a pot of tea steeping under the cozy, I picked up a slim volume of excerpts from Rilke’s letters, detailing his encounter with a Cezanne exhibition. Cezanne, Rilke believed, exemplified a revolutionary shift away from idealized images to “plainspoken fact.” Cezanne’s paintings do not only change the way we think about art, Rilke contends, they change the way we see. “Something horrible, something that seems no more than disgusting, is,” Rilke writes, “and shares the truth of its being with everything else that exists.”
Rilke, in this beautiful spring, you break my heart. How do I make peace with a reality where beauty and travesty stand shoulder-to-shoulder?
Truthfully, I often long to turn my head from unpleasantness in the world. On a trip to the UK last summer, I found a Tesco reusable shopping bag printed with the merry message, “Fill me up with lovely things again and again!” I hauled that bag all over England, grinning ear to ear. For who doesn’t want to be filled with lovely things?
But to participate honestly in this world and indeed to tell the truth with my life, I must accept, and step right into the middle of, suffering. I must hold space for the sorrows and losses that bloom right among the beauties and joys. For to refuse life its complexity–to deny suffering and ‘ugliness’ – leads to a cheapened, sepia-tinged view of the world. And sentimentality, while easy, is pernicious.
The artist is not “permitted to turn his back on anything,” Rilke writes. To do so, he intimates, is to lose the whole, to relinquish what it means to be human. So today, I will not turn my back on the sadness that plucks at my elbow. As Rilke says, “it shares the truth of being with everything else that exists.” Here, this cup of tea at my side, this dog napping under the maple tree, this lingering sadness, all of it I acknowledge. All of it goes in my Tesco bag, filling me up again and again.
Friends, who are the artists who give you the courage to embrace this complicated world of ours? Please share with us by commenting either at our site, on Facebook, or on Instagram. And thank you for joining us. You all mean so much to us.
Here’s to cultivating wonder,