There's a show called ART coming up at our local theater; it's about a man who buys a painting that's all white. "Is it," the promotional materials ask, "because he understands the intrinsic value of art…or is he just plain gullible?" To celebrate the play, our local gallery has asked several artists to produce white paintings, which will be hung in the lobby of the theater for the duration of the play.
My friend Vicky Harrison (click here for her website) was invited to do one of the white paintings, and I went over to her studio a few days ago to see the piece she had created. I really liked it: it had some wonderful elements -- different shades of white, big swirls of white moving horizontally across the lower third, some vaguely eastern looking characters in white marching down the left side... it was playful, and balanced, intriguing, and very very... well... WHITE!
And it made me think, as does this boat, of how often language, even a single word, contains so much possibility. As I look at this boat, I think you would agree with me that it is white. The oar, too, is white, though a different shade of white. Even that dark rope could be described as red and white striped. And yet, if I hadn't shown you this picture, if I just said I had taken a photograph of a white dinghy, a white oar, and a red and white-striped rope, you might have visualized something completely different -- and probably something quite a bit tidier than this, more freshly painted, newer looking.
I do actually have a photograph of a white dinghy that's in much better shape than this one, very freshly painted. It even has white oars, and a white rope, onto which I could easily paint some red stripes. But somehow I like this one better. I think that's because this boat isn't perfect. Like me, it's obviously aged, it has some wear. But it's still floating, a solid, practical functional vehicle, ready to serve again. And my favorite part is the way the oar has been worn down from the oarlock, and the way the bluish tones of that slightly narrower section of the oar reflect the bluish tones of the water. It's like a harbinger of the impermanence of our creations, that all we are and do will eventually return to the key elements, to earth, or water; to air, or fire.
Like language, like the things we create, like our lives, like each moment, this worn oar carries within it the memory of the past, the look of the present, the promise of the future, and all the symbolism invested in it by the observer. Like the oar, or the word white, each of us, and all that surrounds us, is rich -- even holy -- with memory, meaning, presence and promise. And we get to see and rejoice in it all -- if we just take the time to pay attention.