Pain and Beauty

I teach creativity and imagination.  I know, why assign such topics to someone deficient in both?  Go figure.  Eat your heart out, etc.

I require some students to write reports on creators they choose from Daniel Boorstin’s The Creators.  Amazing book, and improbable to be equaled in a generation as he was the Librarian of Congress tapping an astonishing group of researchers to help research and tell the stories.  He achieved lucid, clear, salient story telling at its best.

So questions about creative people lurk in the literature.  Are they more avant-garde, anti social-conformity, rule busting people?  Are they more broken, prone to mind and mood altering substances?  Are they more gifted?

Sixty years ago Guilford showed a scatter graph supporting his “intelligent enough” theory of creativity.   IQ correlates positively with creativity up to @ an IQ of 85, and then any correlation vanishes.  Hmmm.

Creatives come from all manner of socioeconomic, religious and family backgrounds.

Now some research suggests we are “happier” in the left side of our brains, and “sadder” in the right side; and many associate creativity with that right side, although, in truth, when you’re in the creativity “zone”, your brain draws on the left and then the right side some — 300 times a second.

Also, remembering sadness, pain, or loss is easier than joy or happiness: which begs a question.

Do creatives know they live out their lives with more pain, or that creativity is born of pain?  Do we all sense that, and avoid or seek creativity based on a desire or fear of pain?

If you interviewed King David, The Rolling Stones, U2, Coldplay, Hip Hop Kings, Ray Charles and Billie Holiday, Rich Mullins, Michelangelo, and Da Vinci — how do you see them answering, “What percentage of your life have you been “happy” or “joyous”?

Even if their answers suggest beauty is born of pain, art is born of suffering — why seek to create, to innovate, to make art?  That provokes two hard questions for me.

One, did God know His stunning creation, and the people who he made the crowning aspect of that creation would bring Him unfathomable pain?  Why create anyway?

Why do some of the most haunting, intense, overwhelming things of beauty; why do they push us to that pain in the throat, choked tears, impossible to swallow, quivering smile that mimics stunning moments of worship for believers?

Have we been wired for far more than we dare create, hope for, or desire?


I don’t run from myself.  I don’t wish to be someone else.  I don’t spend time trying to be other people, but the guy in my mirror keeps changing.  His glasses have changed, and he is more nearsighted.  Liver spots.  Even when frozen off, tend to find new spaces on his face.  He is getting older, but the guy in my head still talks and sounds at most 30ish.

And yet, the Christian scriptures describe God as the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Timeless.  Not subject to the ravages of time.  Hmmm.

Just sitting here, I am replacing myself.  Cell for cell, and not quite replacing each cell as wondrously as I did in my first few years of life.

I now own five toilets in three buildings.  All functioning again after yesterday’s work by Paul.  No, all five flushing again after the nice plumber came out for four hours today.  He said tree roots don’t mind “gray” water, but they don’t help toilets to flush without sending relics into showers.  My wife hates relics.   Wait, the one in the guest end of the house sounds like a small machine gun when filling, and rattles pipes in the kitchen.  So, after one more servicing, they will all be maintained.  Not improved.  Just maintained.

And yet, for forty years the Israelites making an extended, generation-wiping detour in the desert never had shoes or tents, or clothes wearing out.  Timeless.

I have pains that take longer to heal.  Some never will.  I didn’t make life choices to bring pain, I thought.

And yet, heaven supposedly tolerates neither pain nor tears.

In the last 2,000 years, we’ve left nothing unchanged, unedited: governmental forms, trade, technologies, medicine, science.  Many changes are wondrous.  Some bring bad effects.

And yet, no one has said anything as lasting, as improbable, as heart-stoppingly hopeful as a carpenter-cum-late-blooming rabbi that authorities unsuccessfully rubbed out.

Did you ever feel as if time does not make sense?  As if time itself is somehow not right?

It could be that our weirdest acceptance of the incongruous is that we take time for granted, as the given.

When it is not.


The Threshold

For years I have whispered a fleeting prayer when I see someone walking on a prosthesis.  My first personal encounter was with a beautiful 12-year-old who lost her left foot and half her shin that we amputated in surgery one winter night.  She came back a few months later and we danced a little in the hall of the hospital — her on her new prosthesis.  I never got over the courage in a smile from that child.

Wars and accidents have increased the number of friends and new acquaintances sporting the latest in prosthetic fashion.  All face pain: mental, emotional, actual, continual, and memory based.  All must make daily overcoming part of their diet and regimen.

So my prayer is for their daily courage.  Courage to face the pain.  Courage to gear up for battle for the new day.

Courage to cross the threshold of his or her door and go out into the world and live life.

It takes continual courage, a reservoir of bravery, a small surplus of audacity to leave the womb or nest and cross the threshold into exposed life, doesn’t it?

And so for us all.  Even being down for a couple of days with a virus, and then we must get up and go back out to work.  Go back to school.  Go back to the project running over budget with no answer on the drawing board, yet.  Go back to fighting for a marriage.  Go back and face today’s battle.

So today’s whispered prayer is:  help me cross the threshold and step back into life, if not fearlessly, then swallowing my doubts and smiling enough to keep everyone else guessing! And help me use my abilities well, rather than as if someone only strapped them on to me yesterday in rehab.


Nursing Your Emotions

I was so impressed that you decided to go to a counselor, friend.  To realize that you are “the happy medium” in emotions, but that you have placed guards against too much of either the highs or the lows is tricky.

It took courage to go see a counselor or therapist and find why you guard against too much emotion.  I have yearned for you to see, feel, immerse yourself in some experiences for years.

I never told you that when I was eleven or so, I would crank dad’s media system down in the library to blast the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky.  I would close my eyes and slip  into the sound stream to direct the orchestra — and be overcome.  I might barely be able to concentrate on the different pieces’ entrance in the restatement as tears welled up from deep inside.

I held to times from camps when God seemed to infuse the moments and something in the music or sermon or a quiet time with sealed orders up on a cliff overlooking the lake would sweep me away.

When Anna Cavalier died after our first date at 16, within an hour of having seen her, that pain swallowed me.  But that pain taught me a lesson I have used with grieving people all of my life.  I tell them how rich they are to have loved so deeply that they feel torn, bereft, shattered at the absence of the deceased.  I have spent that pain at her loss over a hundred times into others’ tears and bereavement, and there again, the courage to walk into another’s deep emotion draws on skills to keep the leather over your heart, but once in a great while, I have had no finer gift to another brother or sister than to share tears.  I find wisdom and eloquence cheaper, but wading and sharing the grief has a more profound impact for Christ or their sanity or whatever is important at the moment.

So let the God who stirred David to write the Psalms that grip us, Isaiah who wrote the stunning grief at what was coming and unshakable hope of what would follow restore the emotions, restore their ability to teach you life, and life more abundantly to you, my dearest friend.


And Pain to Go Around

That title statement is unclear.  It mean we all have pain we must navigate, we must “go around” and this will hold true in all seasons of my life.

It means there is so much pain to go around so we can all have plenty, that there will always be some unloading out of the back of a dump truck at my house.

Unasked.  Unsought.

Kimberly raced around as a child until a drunk hit her family’s car, and her child safety seat malfunctioned.  The family sued, so she always had a top of the line wheel chair, a nicer home to come home to, and had to trust some people to help her enjoy freedom and mobility.

Except for the last set who lived in her apartment, ate her food, and let her get down to 45 pounds.  When her parents found her in another state, the only medicine was palliative care.  She died yesterday.

That came to us Monday night.

I have looked for Mark off and on for three years.  I got lucky last night, and instead of googling his name, I googled his and Mackenzie’s together.  Bingo.  Found them.

Okay, found her obituary that enabled me to find him.  After her affair.  After they fought back and enjoyed ten years of marriage.  Before she succumbed to guilt or genes or whatever so Mark had to move out.  Six months before she died of cirrhosis of the liver while Mark and the two astonishing daughters, and Mark’s new wife held her hand.  Gone now.

If Jill and I knew and loved fewer people, we might know less pain.  If we held a smaller, tighter knit circle precious, we might be insulated from so much pain, which seems to abound so there is plenty to go around.

But as I sat in the living room, listening to our friend Don relate Kimberly’s sad trajectory after they moved and we lost track of them:  I also remembered firecrackers that rivaled small town celebrations, stunning meals, and small joys in their home.  And I shed deeper-than-tears joy.

And this afternoon as I commuted listening to Mark’s voice on the phone for the first time in 30 years, I wept when he did.  Luckily, I stopped at a light.  And then we shared incredible events bringing us together 30 years ago, and triumphs over those years, and how stunning his daughters truly are, and I touched hope.  We even laughed.

Yes, less exposure might lessen the amount of pain.  But the cost in lost joy is way, way, way too high.

Unthinkably high for any who have ever held Hope’s hand in pain.