Get Closer

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She is an old woman. A double amputee with age spots and flaking skin. Would she attract your attention by that description? Would you seek her out? Probably not, yet millions travel to the Venus de Milo every year, sometimes crossing the world to view her at the Louvre. It’s interesting that though she is broken we consider her a masterpiece because of her beauty and antiquity. But also because her brokenness lends an air of mystery that leads us to want to engage with her. So we stand in front of her and silently wonder.

Minor League

the-rookie-best-baseball-movies. . . for my dad, Daniel Bowman, Sr.


“Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona.”
― George F. Will

The dog days of summer are just around the corner, and I’m thinking about baseball. Anyone who’s been around the game knows that it has long been considered a metaphor for life, or a metaphor for America, or a metaphor for…something. The daily grind, the peaks and valleys of success and failure: the rhythms of baseball reflect our experience.

Man of Sorrows

Dyce

The painting you are looking at was completed in 1860 by the 19th-century Scottish artist William Dyce. It is called “Man of Sorrows.” I think it’s an odd painting, though on the surface it does not seem that odd. Without the title we might think it is a painting of Jesus in the wilderness or perhaps in the Garden of Gethsemane. But the title tells us something different. The phrase “Man of Sorrows” comes from Isaiah 53:3 (“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”)

Our Moments Big as Years

star beach O aching time! O moments big as years!   – John Keats

Tradition has it that after Christ raised Lazarus from the dead, the revived one never laughed again. Except once, while sitting in the marketplace watching a   thief steal a clay pot. He found that hilarious. “Clay, stealing clay!” Ah, the philosophical bent of those whose souls have temporarily stepped out of time and hovered above their own decomposing bodies.

Time is unruly, an elusive commodity temporarily spliced into the DNA of the universe. Whether we’re on time, out of time, or in the nick of time, we measure this invisible bafflement by simple things; the ticking of a clock, our breath, the movements of celestial bodies. Theoretical physicists like Sean Carroll offer visuals like his “arrow of time” that slices through a vast multiverse, where defining terms we recognize—causality, memory, progress, aging, metabolism—are attached to puny time’s events as they hang onto the arrow for dear life.

Yet here we are, mostly non-physicists, shuffling through the present, racking up piles of the past like old sales receipts, anxious about the future, and wasting time like crazy. So few of our recollections seem to inspire the sense that that event/obsession/outlay of energy was worth investing in, back then, when that was the now. We feel as wretched as Shakespeare’s Richard II: I wasted time, and now time doth waste me. If anything in life requires faith, it is the conviction that a worthy tapestry is somehow being woven from it all.

Think back to the night of your senior prom. You were supple and stunning in ecru muslin and pearls, he pressed a red rose into your hand, you danced to “Colour My World,” then slept within a stand of quivering aspen while sparks from your campfire wafted into open space, where Dr. Carroll’s “progress” or “causality” might or might not be relevant. Question: If sparks from a teenager’s campfire drift across the border from time into non-time territory, and no one is there to notice, is the power of young love strong enough to give the sparks causality?

Truth: The Deeply Rooted Idea

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This morning an arborist is cutting down a white oak beside our house. The bark of the tree had started rotting off in chunks the size of dinner plates, and it was full of ants underneath as far up as I could see. Surprisingly, the inside of the trunk looked like healthy blond wood. This was also the case with our neighbor’s tree, the one that came crashing down two years ago in what the TV news called a “severe wind event” until some meteorologist introduced them to the cool new term derecho—wind like a tornado, but straight at you instead of swirling. The roots of his tree, it turned out, were weak and had given way.