Friday, August 20, 2010

Finding El Greco

My heart grew ten sizes today. Things are clicking for me since I've given up the idea of being an insurance saleswoman and accepted the fact that I simply enjoy the satisfaction of trying to make the world a little bit better place each day.

That's important to me, trying to make the world a better place. I felt writing for the old-school paper newspapers was an effective way to do it. Those old paper newspapers built community in an effective way.

I'm not so sure about the online media. Maybe it will eventually. But at this time I just don't feel like it's quite what I signed up for in journalism school. So many hyperlinks, so little time. People might start on the same page, but electronic stories are a whole different culture. I feel as though we get lost in online media. I do anyway. So far there seem to be no rules with the new media. I don't have the energy to keep up with it. Canvassing is simple. Simple is very good for me. That's why I've decided to keep canvassing through at least January 1 unless some amazingly obvious opportunity falls into my lap. I'm excited about the opportunity to be a better canvasser, to blog about canvassing and to share my gift for canvassing with others who join the Clean Water Action staff.

I sort of have this guy from the "date" last Saturday to thank for my acceptance of my simple life as a canvasser. He's an extremely simple person in certain ways -- and seemingly quite effective in his sphere. That's all we really need to do in our lives, right? Be effective in our little spheres. We don't have to conquer. We don't have to become champions. We don't have to make oodles of money and win millions of fans. We can just be simple.

I said the guy was a jerk(actually, I think the words I used were "sort of an ass")but that's only because he sort of got to me -- and I wasn't really open to being gotten to. I realized later that he's quite possiblly a genuine person and probably it was throwing me off guard. It was freaking me out, I think. I've come in contact with authentic and good men a few times in the past five years -- men who are attractive, interesting and good. And they've really frightened me. I've had some really bad heart breaks.

It's not like I've had many dates. I really haven't. But I realized today the extent to which I've been blocked from letting anybody in. I realized it when I decided I wanted to text this guy and ask if he might consider a do over. It seemed crazy but it was on my heart. I just kept thinking it would be a good idea. I thought it would be a good idea because I kept thinking about the Toledo Art Museum and this El Greco painting there. We had sort of toyed with the idea of going there tonight the last time we talked on the phone, a week ago. I had said, "maybe in a few weeks," pushing it out into the future. And then I told him about some other dates I was planning to go on. I just didn't feel ready for anybody authentic who read things that interested me, I suppose. Readers really get to me -- always have. I was all freaked out!

So I went ahead and texted him. I wrote "If you give me a do over, I'll meet you at the El Greco. I don't know why. I think we agree upon the scarce possibility (impossibility?) of romance." It was the best I could do. But I did it.

And then I took another step. I started driving in toward the El Greco, asking God to intervene at any moment and make it difficult for me to find. I didn't know how to get there, hadn't read a map ahead of time, hadn't been to Toledo in years -- probably five years or even longer, probably six years!

I knew in my heart that I just had to go to the El Greco somehow. I didn't expect him to be there and I didn't know what I would think or feel if he was there. I didn't know if I liked him or hated him or what. I didn't know anything, other than the fact that my heart wanted to go to the El Greco. So, I called my friend Heather who lives in South Carolina. We had been roommates in college. We had protested Apartheid in South Africa together if that gives you any idea of how long ago it's been since I was a free-spirited college student. We had a Karl Marx poster in our living room, chain smoked Newport Lights and fancied ourselves to be the best quirky party hostesses on campus.

I was in Milan Michigan. My car had just driven there. Sometimes I think things out with drives in the county and my car radio. Heather's grandma has lived on a farm in Milan her whole life. She is the longest-standing vendor at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market. She's been going to the market since the 30s. I digress.

Heather and I only talk about three times a year. I phoned her and said, "You're the only person I know of in the whole world who will tell me the correct answer to this question that I have." I asked her if I should go to the El Greco. My biggest fear was that I would bump into him and he wouldn't want to see me. Maybe he was planning to go to the museum and hadn't received my text. Lots of people don't pay attention to texts. Sometimes I don't. I think we were pretty much enemies by Wednesday after a series of nasty e-mails (most of the nastiness generated from me, I suppose).

"I can't believe this," Heather said. "I'm getting the shivers! I think it's your mom. I thought of what she told you this morning when I was going to the bathroom."


"That thing your mom used to tell you."

"What thing?"

"You don't love someone because of who they are but despite who they are."


"I think that has something to do with this whole museum thing. You have to go. It's just part of your journey. It's not about him! Just go. Look at the paintings."

Heather isn't even a Catholic but somehow she has a pretty good understanding of the intercession of the saints and everything. Who am I to argue with Heather and my mother in heaven who had apparently spoken to Heather in her bathroom?

Oh I don't know. It sounds crazy, I know. But this is what happens with best friends. You can be crazy together. I mean, you know, we protested Apartheid and stuff like that. I have to listen to her.

So, I went to Toledo. I went to the art museum. I found the El Greco and I sat and looked at it. Then I looked at a few other paintings. Then I went back to the El Greco and I sat and looked at it some more.

The painting depicts The Agony In the Garden, the first decade of the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary. I hadn't prayed a rosary yet for the day. I had a rosary in my bag. A friend of mine bought the rosary in Israel and had it blessed by the Pope in Rome. I pulled it out and started praying the first decade while looking at the painting. It was quite powerful and I could tell I was experiencing grace. I started in with the second decade of the sorrowful mysteries, The Scourging At The Pillar, and I was just seven beads in when an older man who works at the museum came and spoke to me.

"You like this painting?"

I nodded and explained I was praying a rosary.

"When you get done there, I want to show you a few other paintings. We have a lot of religious paintings here. These two are the best."

I told him I was just finishing up the decade and after the three remaining beads I went and followed him. He took me to a painting of the Blessed Mother in heaven with the infant Jesus. Jesus was holding a very long sword that pierced a dragon or demon of some sort. The man told me his wife tells him the dragon or demon is him! There were angels all around. The man told me he loved the painting but didn't know what it meant. I gave him my spin on it. He took me to another painting, a much larger one in a different room. This one also was a painting of the Blessed Mother and the infant Jesus. It had lots of symbolism in it and the symbolism was explained on a card next to the painting. It had tadpoles, for instance. They are symbolic of life.

I left the museum after that, reminded of the fact that I always receive special graces during this week of the year. It is the week during which my mother was in a coma in 1998. She slipped into the coma on August 15, the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She died on August 22, the Feast of the Queenship of Mary.

What does this have to do with me getting down to business?

I am not certain, exactly. I just know I'm getting back on path. I am facing fears. I'm accepting reality. I'm getting back in some sort of a groove.

And I'm very happy to have gone to Toledo to see the El Greco. It hadn't been about having a do over with him. It had been about having a do over with myself. It had been about being open to the possibility of beauty.

In large ways and in small ways, I've been blocked with that.

It all works together -- career decisions, leisure decisions, love decisions, spiritual decisions. It's all part of the same thing.

That is life, I suppose, and how I live it.

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