The bench was new. The surroundings were not. For nineteen summers, we’ve brought one of our kids to this camp, hidden on a winding dirt road in the Poconos. Each of them stayed for a typically memorable week. Some, when old enough, have worked for the whole summer. We even got a wonderful daughter-in-law out of it.
Grace and I sat by the lake, listening to the birds, watching the sun light up the leaves above us. I asked her what she liked best about the place.
“Everything,” she answered. “Except the bugs.” Then, when an agile Whitetail Skimmer landed briefly on a nearby rock, she corrected herself, adding, “Only the gross bugs.”
I know what she means by everything. The camp has been a place of spiritual recharging for my kids. It’s a fun place, but there’s depth beneath the games and songs -- not unlike the tadpoles just under the surface of the pond that challenge even the youngest of visitors to come in and catch them.
“So, as you look forward to the week,” I asked her, “is the anticipation more about what you remember or about something new that might happen?”
She thought for a bit. (Then asked me if this was for the blog. When I said yes, she thought some more.) Finally she said, “For what I remember… but something new always happens.”
After a bit, she left me to my own musing. Soon a young counselor sat down on the other end of the bench and began to read. I watched the sun illuminate the pages of his book.
Like that, Grace’s words threw some light on the experience we have with art. Any great painting (or book, or music, etc.) has more depth than we can take in on one sitting. When we return to it, we have the same anticipation. We come for the familiar. We walk away with something new.
I’ll admit I’m not big on re-reading. Or multiple viewings of movies. Or hanging up paintings. But there are two such paintings in my house that have, simply by being on prominent walls, invited me to absorb them.
The Nooning by Winslow Homer was a suitable theme for when we moved our boys to the more relaxed pace of a small town.
We should all be so fortunate to have a place that soothes us with its familiarity while stretching us with something new. Better yet to have such places hanging on our walls and sitting on our shelves, ready, whenever we are, to engage us.