Friday, February 17, 2012

A Cautionary Tale

On Valentine's Day Brandon took me to the Hammer Museum to see the Van Goghs. They were stunning, as expected.

But the painting that has really stuck with me is a portrait of Miss Edith Crowe by Henri Fantin-Latour (1874).

The little blurb beside it did not discuss the painting--it just said something about how the artist, in general, tried to paint portraits of people that reflected something about their personality. Perhaps the author was hesitant to say what this portait said about Miss Crowe, because it struck them as it did me: highly unflattering.

The background is nothing but darkness, and Miss Crowe is looking determinedly away from the viewer, staring into space, with shoulders slightly hunched. I was struck with sadness that she seemed as one very carefully contained, as one deliberately withholding herself from the world with a secret rage and bitterness at those who had hurt and rejected her. Her face is carefully neutral, revealing nothing, and her hands are folded in front of her as if at once to protect herself, and to maintain an external calmness.

Probably others viewing the same portrait have a different interpretation of Miss Crowe. She could alternatively be read as merely the quiet, introspective type, lost in her own world. Or perhaps as one who is facing severe disappointments but has steadfastly maintained her composure. The woman herself could easily have been all of the above.

But the way she appeared to me--as one embittered, choosing isolation--reflects the "cautionary tale" I need to hear at the moment. Because at times I feel that the gifts I have to offer others are scorned, rejected, misunderstood. It's hard to put myself out there, knowing the risk--but it is a risk I must continue to take every time I feel compelled to offer my often unusual perspective. It is a risk worth taking no matter how many times I am dismissed or ignored or even attacked, because I do not want to become a bitter hermit.

And I will try to become better myself at listening to others, accepting and affirming whatever they have to say and to offer of themselves. It is an immeasurable loss when any person withdraws from others because they have been hurt and rejected. And it happens all too often.

"Lord, I want to be more loving in my heart ... "

[The photo comes from the Hammer Museum website]

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