Monday, August 17, 2015

Benched Week 85: longing for simplicity

The sun was bright on my center-city Philly bench. We had just come out of the dark stuffiness of the church where my brother-in-law, Bernie, is an organist. He had treated us to a brief tour, as well as a sample of the music he could perform on the powerful instrument.

The sanctuary had been impressive in its complicated, ornate decorations and statuaries of saints.

But once outside, a bit removed from the extravagance, I felt a familiar longing for simplicity rising up within me…

…one that only grew stronger at our next stop, the Japanese House and Gardens in Fairmount Park. The house, modeled on a 17th century Japanese design, is starkly beautiful. Or boring, depending on the visitor.

The gardens, viewed from that porch, were like a natural sedative, inviting the viewer to sit and be still. And ponder.

I’ve been pondering much in the last three weeks, since my mother-in-law passed away. In the days that followed, Alison and I had the difficult task of emptying an apartment, filled with the both the memorable and the mundane. There’s something strongly sobering about seeing a life reduced down to a pile of things.

Turning my gaze inward, I have come to realize since then the “things” that matters most to me are my creative expressions: the gifts of my art, my writing, my photos. The rest of the trappings don’t need to be clung to. Pass ‘em out when I pass on.

In the meantime, I want to stay centered on the important. Surprisingly, Francis of Assisi is helping me with that. I found a statue of him hidden in the garden outside the church. And turning to the web, I found this quote of his, which I then wrote into a photo I captured of simple, textured stain glass in the sanctuary.

There’s a reduction I can live with. And live by. A simple credo: use my talents to bless others. It’s why I write this blog. And why I fuss with photos of your mugs.


In art terms, it’s a focal point. It’s that one point of contrast, that one splash of color that adds meaning to seeming randomness, that puts an exclamation point to an ordinary scene. It holds it all together.

Simplicity, then, isn’t severity. It’s a narrow archway into a new, wider landscape of “things.” But this time, hopefully, it’ll be the things that last.