The way I see it, Veronika, you should live everyday like it’s your birthday.
As John Lennon preached “Count your age by friends, not years. Count your life by smiles, not tears.”( From Mariella to Jitka …)
Congratulations 🎉 on another trip around the sun! I hope this day is full of cake, memories, and fun.
Veronica (variants in other languages: Veronika, Verónica, Verônica, Véronique, Weronika, Вероника) is a female given name, a Latin alteration of the Greek name Berenice(Βερενίκη), which in turn is derived from the Macedonian form of the Athenian Φερενίκη, , or Φερονίκη, , from φέρειν, , to bring, and νίκη, , "victory", i.e. "she who brings victory".
Women Holding Things: Artist Maira Kalman’s Tender and Quirky Ode to the Weight of the World and the Barely Bearable Lightness of Being
“There can never be enough time. And you can never hold on to it.”
AT THIS POINT THIS KIND OF PUBLISHING IS JUST A MONEY-LAUNDERING SCHEME: Squad member got $50,000 advance for book that only sold 729 copies its first week.
We should all contemplate how we would cope, what solace we could find, if we lost everything
Not too long ago, I woke at 5am to one of those messages you never want to receive from a family member: “Please call me as soon as you wake up.” I read the words again, slowly, and looked at the time stamp: 4am. I knew immediately that something dreadful had happened. But I stayed still, trying to hold on to a few more minutes of that soft, dark, quiet place of ignorance, and said a few prayerful words asking for some strength and courage and calm.
Then I called back, and learnt that just a few hours earlier, in the middle of the night, a relative’s house had caught fire. By the time I was hearing the news, it had burnt down. Thankfully everyone, including the dog, had got out. In the hours that followed when I hung up the phone, as I waited for the light of day to creep slowly in and for the rest of the world to wake up, I sat quietly in my living room with my coffee.
‘Pyramid of Fire’ (1929) by American artist Charles E Burchfield © Burchfield Penney Art Center
My mind in a bit of a fog, I looked around at the countless books, the small clay statue I bought in the medieval Italian town of Gubbio, the photographs of my mother and grandmother on the mantelpiece, the little antique side table I found and loved at first sight. Material possessions, but ones that symbolise the structure and meaning of our lives.
And as I tried to imagine what it would be like to suddenly lose everything I had, something shifted in me. I realised that the thought didn’t feel as unimaginable as it might once have. That such a thing could happen to anyone without warning. It’s left me wondering if there might be some benefit in holding that chilling yet not implausible possibility in our minds for a little bit. What would we do with our lives, if we really thought it possible that at any given moment we could lose everything?
The 1929 watercolour “Pyramid of Fire”, by American artist Charles E Burchfield, exudes a grim and despairing air. Painted the year the Great Depression began, during a decade of the artist’s realist period, it shows a wildly burning barn, symbolic of a valuable livelihood extinguished. Roaring orange flames have filled the interior, their tall tongues licking up from the disintegrating structure towards the smoke-filled sky.
‘Pyramid of Fire’ (1929) by American artist Charles E Burchfield © Burchfield Penney Art Center It doesn’t look like anything could be salvaged from this. There is a sense of helplessness evoked by the small motionless group of people watching from the bottom right of the frame, and by three small firemen figures, tiny in scale at the side of the overwhelming fire that seems to billow up even beyond the boundaries of the canvas.
They are shooting thin lines of water into the building, like trying to douse a volcano with a bucket of water. Staring at this painting, it’s easy to wonder why anyone would paint such a dismal scene, and who would want to immortalise someone’s world going up in smoke. But I think it is a powerful work because it forces us to reckon with the impermanence of our material things and possessions. And maybe such a reckoning might lead us to a deep questioning about where we put our stock in life, and what we really couldn’t live without. The painting captures how the seeming normality of any of our lives can change on a dime, without warning.
Our lives and our lifestyles are perhaps more fragile and transitory than we willingly accept. Yet if we had to reckon with that, what — if anything — might we change about how we are living now? If we’ve learnt anything in the past few years, it is that nothing protects any of us from the randomness of life’s hand.
It might seem strange, but I really love Irish painter William Orpen’s 1905 oil painting “Job (from the Old Testament)”. It is a striking and poignant depiction of human frailty and ultimate vulnerability. Tiled rooftop buildings stand in a background of black and grey. In the foreground, a naked old man, Job, enlarged by his proximity to us, sits alone atop a mound of hay or corn.
Jeering townsmen recede beside him. His wrinkled body is caved forward into himself, and he crosses his arms as though protecting himself from the ridicule of his former friends. One hand is over his eyes, both preventing him from having to stare at the reality of his condition, and covering his face in seeming shame, loneliness and despair. ‘Job (from the Old Testament)’ (1905) by Irish artist William Orpen © SirWilliamOrpen.com Orpen painted this dramatic work about the Old Testament character Job, a wealthy and pious man who suddenly loses everything he owns and all his family.
No one can understand how someone as faithful and good as Job could suffer such profound loss, and he is left to go through the stages of grief, questioning and despair. His friends go from blaming him, to trying to get him to renounce his faith, to finally abandoning him. But all the while Job refuses to curse his God. Even in the midst of profound personal loss, there is perhaps still a sense of grace that might help us consider what is left I am struck by the crowd because I imagine part of what fuels their mockery is a fear of Job’s situation.
To blame Job for what has happened to him is to offer themselves a false sense of protection from suffering a similar fate. I am also struck by the rooster at the very fore of the painting, pecking innocently at the ground, a symbol of the mundane and quotidian. Its presence suggests that there is nothing extraordinary about what happened to Job, nothing that couldn’t happen to any of us.
At its centre, the Book of Job is ultimately about our human struggle to make sense of our deep losses, and to understand a supposedly good deity who permits it. To gaze courageously at this painting might invite us to imagine ourselves located somewhere on the canvas. Where might we imagine ourselves and why? Are we unwilling or unable to imagine ourselves sitting on that hay heap?
Marc Chagall didn’t have to imagine loss. The Jewish artist’s life was filled with it, from having to leave his beloved hometown of Vitebsk (in modern-day Belarus), to fleeing Europe during the second world war, to the death of his beloved wife Bella. Even professional success was no armour against it. And yet much of his work exudes a profound sense of hope and love in the midst of the realities of loss. In the 1939 painting “The Dream”, Chagall creates an image of life as loss, as faith, as invitation, as love, as mystery and as sustained hope.
The blues and greens of the background hold the images of a small village and of a sanctuary on a hill, a remembrance of his beloved homeland and his religious community. In the foreground, perhaps representing hope for the future, are two lovers on a brightly painted bed, the only point of light on the canvas. Literally floating in the space on the canvas between the past and the future, is a winged angel extending an invitational arm.
The only thing between the reality of the past and the hope for the future is the present. I am smitten by the metaphoric notion of inhabiting a present where angels extend invitations for us to dwell fully. It is as if to suggest, even in the midst of profound and personal loss — even the kind that sideswipes you from out of nowhere and takes everything — that perhaps there is still a grace to host us in unimaginable ways. A grace that might help us consider what is left, and how we might live in the spaces where there is plenty and where there is seemingly nothing at all.
When I was sitting quietly after the phone call that morning, with the fresh knowledge that my loved ones had indeed escaped from a burning house, considering all the possessions I had in the world, nothing at all felt irreplaceable. What did surprise me was a sudden jolt of clarity, a powerful feeling of wanting to prioritise and do the things about which I feel passionate. And wanting to say a vibrant yes to a few opportunities I’d been sitting on indecisively. As I sat there, I thought of the haiku composed by 17th-century poet Mizuta Masahide: “Barn’s burnt down, now I can see the moon.” It felt a little too soon for that. But it also felt beautiful to know such a feeling was also out there, waiting to be received.
Email Enuma at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find her on Twitter @enumaokoro