Thursday, May 19, 2011

About What We Take

I am reminded often of how much I have taken from those people who have tossed something into the mix that became who I am. There are too many to remember, too many to write about and, of course, a great many forgotten, their gifts absorbed and unidentified.

There was a friend that my older brother met at a summer job. George M. was the son of Mexican immigrants; he was becoming an engineer back then. He brought classical music to us. And a look at our lives through a more elastic window. I was seventeen and unhappy about not being able to afford an art school education. He told me of Cooper Union (his school), where if you passed the exam, you were admitted to the tuition-free school of art. My life as my choice began that summer.

Later there were boyfriends who added to my store: Loring was/is biracial, the son of a black mother and Chinese father. A very different heritage from mine. But he was from the next high school district and since I met him at art school he was more like me than anyone I had gone to school with before. Lots of learning there. George L., another boyfriend of that era, was just back from the war in Korea, older by ten years and full of Asian culture. I was introduced to zen in the early fifties. I was a Jewish girl dating a guy whose brother was a priest and sister a nun.

Then there was total immersion in another culture by way of the husband whom I met in Venezuela when he had just emigrated from Spain. From him I took some of those elements of myself that are most precious to me: a command of a second language, an appreciation of baroque music (Bach is still tops), learning so rich and varied and well integrated that it’s hard to separate out who I was before him.

From my friend Susan, I learned to shop. And to discern fine quality in clothing. Might have more in the bank now but for that. From Carmen about dignity and responsibility; she was as much mentor as friend, never feared to hold up a mirror to me. My friend Patricia might not remember that I ceased all contact with her when I learned that she was moving back to Europe. She called one day and said: “I’m not dead, you know!” And I learned that how I dealt with painful separation was to obliterate the person from memory. Thank you, Patricia.

From my children, apart from augmenting my vocabulary with expressions that would make my mother blush (in two languages), I have learned about how love can fill to the brim and warm a life. Whoever thought that those uncivilized little beings would add so much? Great returns on that investment.

These were (and in some cases still are) relationships based on deep affection and the pleasure of each others’ company. I have spoken of some of the gifts that have enriched my life. The reality is that they form the very fabric of my being.

John Donne said: "No man is an Island, entire of it self; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main." Women, too.

The image above is another of the new quartets: Enclosure ©2011, 26 x 20” each, mixed media on heavy etching paper

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