Tuesday, February 9, 2016

True colors

On Sunday I leisurely strolled through our incredible Toledo Museum of Art.  One of the best in the country, what a gift that the museum is only five minutes from my home and admission is free.  As I walked through the lobby, I flashed back to moments from my childhood when our elementary classes would tour the exhibits, eagerly listening to docents talk about the many different styles of painting.  Upon entering the cloister, I remembered all of the Friday nights I spent there, listening to great music and enjoying an evening out with friends.  There were a host of exhibits I had not seen before, many of them filled with vibrant colors that compelled me to stay a little longer in each gallery and walk across the room to see them from a different perspective.  I'm a huge fan of the sculptures in the Egyptian/Greek gallery, so to see more modern three-dimensional works of art was a real treat.
Until I came to Sylvia Levenson's installation entitled "Strange Little Girl, #7".
It stood in stark contrast next to a painting called "Young Lady with a Bird and a Dog", and startled me with its lifelike appearance.  The piece, around four feet in height, is a child dressed in black with lacy, black wings, black boots donning her feet, and a black raven's mask covering her face.  I stood in awe for a moment, then walked around the statue to see her from all angles.  When I stood directly in front of her, I looked down at my own black leggings and boots, ones that nearly matched hers exactly.
Tears filled my eyes as I realized this strange little girl was mirroring back to me images from my own childhood when I felt lost and alone in darkness, longing to fly away.  Of course back then it wasn't possible, so I donned a disguise that hid me from the world until I was ready to spread my wings at twenty-one and make a nest of my own.  Since then I've peeled off most of the layers and masks, exchanged my black wings for gossamer ones, yet I still love to wear my black boots which remind me that to be anchored yet free is the hallmark of my life's journey.
While I stood there, gazing at the strange little girl, I thought of all the work I did with an art therapist who encouraged me to delve into my unconscious in order to heal and grow.  Over a year and a half period, Sue's office walls were filled with my colorful mandalas, sketches, and paintings, while I was filled with hope in reclaiming those parts of me I had long forgotten.  Near the end of our sessions together, Sue asked if my artwork could be displayed in the Toledo Museum of Art's Library as one of her friends was greatly interested in sharing it as an inspiration to others who had had similar experiences. 
I agreed to show my true colors only if I could remain anonymous.
Three months later, I toured my own exhibit, standing alone at a distance, watching others gaze at my work that was encased behind glass walls.  It was a surreal experience to witness the sequence of the paintings and sketches, knowing full well what each piece meant to me, yet also knowing that, like all artwork, it would mean something else to each visitor.  When the exhibit was dismantled, I was gifted with the dry-mounted pieces and stored them in my office closet for years, never showing them to anyone.
Shortly after I quit teaching, I sifted through all of the work, knowing that I no longer embodied the energy of any of it.  Knowing I needed to get rid of it once and for all.  So, keeping one piece for posterity, I put the rest into the trash bin and woke up early when I heard the garage truck rumbling through the neighborhood.  Darting to the front window, I needed to witness that moment when I truly put the past to rest.
At least at that level.

The past few weeks have been bittersweet.  Death has visited my doorstep more than once, and I've been reminded of the impermanence of all things.  On January 23rd, I dreamed about Clara Rona, the Holocaust Survivor I had interviewed this time last year for THE LACE MAKERS.  She was sitting on a park bench waiting for the transport to take her back home and when she saw me, Clara smiled.
Hugging her, I asked, "How are you today?"
She patted my hand.  "I'm doing just fine now...just fine."
We chatted a bit, then it was time for me to move on, but as I waved good-bye, I marveled at how peaceful Clara seemed, something she often struggled with whenever we talked.  The next morning, a mutual friend called to let me know Clara had passed away the day before, and I felt honored that she stopped by to see me one last time, letting me know she was at peace to be on her way.
Meeting Clara allowed me to see all the colors of her life.  The bright pinks of her joyful days as a preschool volunteer; the warm, rich browns of the sepia-toned snapshots from her life post World War II; and of course, the somber grays of her years spent in the concentration camps.  Whenever we met, Clara was never at a loss for words and often painted the pictures of her life with multicolored emotions that burst forth from places deep inside, places that needed excavating before she was able to leave this earth in peace. 
From the very beginning, she showed me her true colors, and for that, I will always be grateful.

Then again, it's not really difficult for me to see a person's true nature, no matter how hard they try and conceal it with a mask, a posture, or a host of words tumbling from their lips.  Through my Rolfing experience and yoga practice, I've been well-trained to notice the subtleties of physical movement, the inflection in a voice, the way a person carries themselves into the world and into relationship with others.  It often amazes my students that I can clearly identify the day/week/month/year/lifetime they've had just by looking at them.  
           "Your body's telling the story," I often say.  "I'm just articulating it for you."  For I can see a host of colors everywhere, in everyone, and everything.  We've all got our own box of Crayola Crayons.  It's just that some people are more comfortable with the simple box of eight, and others with the bigger box of twenty-four.  As for me, I'm partial to the huge collection of sixty-four...and have more than one at the ready to create my world with a kaleidoscope of color.
In my own relationships with others, I've discovered that the best ones ask me to choose shades I normally wouldn't like: Macaroni and Cheese and Raw Sienna (1), Middle Red Purple and Wild Strawberry.  In the past I would have been content to stick with all the browns, purples, and pinks, never venturing into the ones that Satish stirs up in me:  Silver and Midnight Blue.  Or the ones Danta brings to the table:  Maximum Red and Timberwolf.  I've come to understand that coloring with black is not something to fear, but something to embrace, for the color of mystery and enormous potential is not lost on me as I venture into new experiences as the year unfolds.  As a matter of fact, I often wear black when I teach yoga so that my students aren't distracted by the color of my clothing, so that they can delve into that which makes them more human...and divine. 
There were times when I tried to chameleon myself to a person whom I admired or was attracted to, striving to color with a shade that didn't quite resonate with me, much like trying to pound a square peg into a round hole.  But chameleons who try to please everyone else by being like them lose sight of their own color because it's difficult to fit into a world that doesn't often embrace individuality or freedom of expression.  These days my true colors shine through the best when I come out from behind my glass walls, brightly wearing my own palate, not a facsimile of someone or something else.
Even when it's not all that comfortable.

Recently I was talking with someone who revealed information I had intuited to be true a while ago.  The reality of the situation bled through the conversation and I felt my heart implode.  Shards of red and orange and yellow filled the space between my sternum and shoulder blades, then trickled into my gut where it sat heavy and overwhelming, turning an ugly shade of olive green.  It was a familiar pattern from my past, but this time I didn't choke on it or bite back my words.  I said what I needed to say, and listened when the other person responded. 
Then I hit the gym to move the energy around, get it integrated as soon as possible, and hopefully be able to find my center before getting back to work. It helped, but I know that the only way out of this is through...and I imagine I'll be coloring with every crayon this time around, for the stubby, broken, over-used ones will no longer suffice.  Perhaps someday soon, I'll need to ditch the old box that's been a gift in the past, but an albatross in the present, and invest in a brand new one that will allow me even more room to simultaneously stretch my gossamer wings to the heavens and feel my sturdy, black boots supported by the earth beneath me.
We're all infinite shades of every hue, an enormous spectrum of possibilities.  When we show our true colors without hesitation, those that make us authentically and distinctly unique, perhaps then we'll be able look into the mirror of our lives and see a masterpiece unfolding.