Archive for January, 2008
I believe it was Cézanne…yes it was Paul Cézanne’s painting of Still Life with Apples that started the strange ordeal. It’s from this painting that the “Getty Nazi” emerged like a Phoenix from the ashes of disgruntled Gettynaziism (I just made that up). I understand that Jen’s finger was close to the painting, but it did not warrant his completely overdramatic response. You know who I’m talking about; it’s that security guard in the museum that doesn’t trust anyone, not even if his own mother were to be viewing the paintings. I love going to museums but I hate those people watching me. It makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong or like I’m going to do something wrong. Sometimes it makes me not able to enjoy the artwork; it’s the art world’s form of “Big Brother”. I’ve come to the conclusion that next time it’s raining and they give out those free foul pickle smelling umbrellas I’m either going to take one home or open one up and let wind from the storm carry it off into Westwood, it will be my protest, my form of “sticking it to the man”.
Sorry I digressed.
When the security guard saw Jen’s finger near the painting he then took action. If there had been a ruler handy he would have smacked her finger right off of her hand like an old angry school teacher trying to discipline his most troubled pupil. Because there was no ruler, no instrument of discipline, he just began to stand uncomfortably close to us. I saw the entire event take place out of my peripheral. It looked like he more or less sprinted to our previous position and then in some sort of military fashion clicked his heals and did an about-face. As we turned our backs I could feel him loading his eyes with ammunition and begin to fire off each round with precision and unparalleled marksmanship. I then followed Jen to a bench at the center of room where we observed the remaining paintings. The “Getty Nazi” than began to hover over us like a vulture over a rotting carcass. As I sat next of Jen I began to laugh, not with embarrassment but with amazement. I was amazed that this guy thought that we were trouble; I was amazed at the fact that he simply just didn’t say “excuse me, but could you not be so close to the painting.” Instead he stared us down and made his presence known. I couldn’t even tell Jen what was going on because the “Getty Nazi” was literally standing that close. I really wanted to tell the guy where he could go next, but the night was going well and I still wanted to see my favorite painting. As we made our way out of the gallery and into the gallery with Christ’s entry into Brussels I could see that we were on “the list”. I don’t really know what or who the list consisted of but I knew that somehow we had managed to make it to the top. The “Getty Nazi” followed us out of the gallery and then nonverbally informed the next security guard across the hall that we were trouble. It felt like we were the Bonnie and Clyde of the art world.
Here are a few things I learned from The Night of Bonnie and Clyde a.k.a., The Getty Nazi Night:
1. If a security guard thinks you’ve touched a painting you might as well go back, look that bastard in the eye and touch the damn thing.
2. Some of the Getty’s umbrellas smell like foul pickles.
3. If you’re on top of a hill and you want to release an umbrella into the wind then by all means be my guest.
4. I suck at holding an umbrella for two people.
5. I suck at holding an umbrella for one person; I just can’t seem to get it.
6. The Getty in the rain is amazing.
7. Christ’s entry into to Brussels still is and probably always will be my favorite painting.
8. Regarding art the phrase “because you’re a man” means that I probably would draw women naked or in some extremely uncomfortable fashion of the day.
9. Apparently most paintings of flowers are boring.
10. I will never outwit “Big Brother”, not even at the Getty.
I sat anxiously behind the wheel as I jogged my memory trying to remember whether to make a right or take the left that was seemingly calling out my name. As I sat at the crossroad I decided to go with my gut, I cranked the steering wheel to the left and headed on my way. I could hear the crackle of the rock and dirt from beneath the wheel as I stepped on the gas. This familiar sound filled my mind with memories of my childhood. I could now remember sitting in the passenger’s seat of my father’s old Ford pickup and how the drive seemed longer than it really was. The long dirt road was a good 30 minutes drive from the main highway, but for all I was concerned it could have been somewhere in the middle of nowhere. I don’t know what possessed me to come back, I don’t know if it was a long anticipated time of solitude or if it was simply me wanting to be close to my father again. I think the reality of the situation was that it was a little bit of both. It was a month now since I laid my father to rest and it had been years since we hand any sort of meaningful conversation. I rolled up the windows as the dust from the road began to fill up the cab of my truck; I realized that this road hasn’t been traveled on for some time now. Why would it have been? Even as a child I remember that this road only lead to an old barn, a long barbed wire fence with tall sturdy wood posts that held it in place and a tall old oak that stood by itself in a pasture of tall grass. I can still remember being amazed at how vast the oak’s branches were and how they seemed to have stretched out for miles.
I could now see the tall barn off into the distance as I made my way back into the deep countryside. I could see that somehow it managed to stay upright despite nature’s constant years of abuse. As I drove closer my eyes began to well up with tears from the sight of such a beautiful thing. This was my father’s favorite place and it practically seemed that I grew up here. Some of my fondest memories took place at this very spot. As I pulled up to the barn I could see that it was barely standing, I felt that an unexpected sneeze or a prolonged gaze would knock it down. I got out of my pickup and gently shut the door behind me, I was afraid that the sound from the door shutting might cause some sort of strange sequence of events that would inevitably cause the barn to yield to earth’s gravity. As I cautiously approached the barn I could see patches of red paint amongst its splintered boards. I remembered back to its days of grandeur and when it was painted bright red and its frame the purest of white. Those days were few and far between and now its sturdy beams and rafters have given in to the elements. It’s no longer a safe place to play and its belly is dark and ominous. As I paused and reminisced of countless hours I spent with my father in the hayloft I could hear the sounds of innocence, I could hear the sounds of joy and of a carefree world and I could hear the voice of my father gently fading off into the distance.
I then made my way toward that once majestic barbed wire fence and I could now see that it had now been reduced to a fraction of its glorious past. Its sturdy posts that once stood firm and upright always reminded me of Roman columns holding up the most glorious of monuments. But much like ancient ruins they now remind me that nothing will stand the test of time, not the height of Greek and Roman architecture, not the firm and upright posts of a barbed wire fence, not even life itself. The barbed wire is now rusted and strewn out on the ground with no sort of meaningful direction. There is no metallic glisten of the wire to reflect the radiance of the sun, no longer any intent; it is just a fragment of its former self.
It’s summer now and the soft rolling hills are now painted gold with the tall blades of grass and the warm inviting air caused me to take refuge in the oak’s outstretched arms. As I nestled my weary body between two large protruded roots I found rest, and for the first time in a long time it felt like I was safe. This old oak was a familiar friend, I learned many of life’s lessons under its canopy and when the wind would rustle its leaves I could hear my father’s voice. I remember one spring afternoon with my father we decided to skip the traditional Sunday service and head out to visit what my father called “our good old friend”. As we approached the oak I could see a young fledgling sparrow lying dead next to the oak’s massive roots. It was my first experience with death but it would surely not be my last. My father went on to explain that life is “as fragile as a flower” and is something to be cherished. He told me to enjoy the time I have and that I should hold life close so that I might enjoy its wonderful fragrance. I learned so much under my friends old branches. I often wonder if it could recite to me all of the stories that I’ve heard and all of the lessons that I have now come to understand.
As I stood up and dusted off my backside I made my way around its massive trunk and to the other side. It was then that I saw my father’s and mother’s initial engraved into its bark. Their initials have faded with time but never the less still present. It was here that my father proposed to my mother and it was here that years later I would propose to my wife. Tears rolled down my face as I remembered the day I proposed. I remembered how it was a warm day in late June and how a summer storm snuck up on us as we slept in each others arms. I could now begin to taste the salt from my tears as they slowly made their way down and into my grinning mouth. It was such a beautiful day spent with the most beautiful of all women. It will be forever etched in my mind; I could still see her dance in the golden pasture as the large raindrops made her red dress cling to her swaying body. She is my Flaming June, forever my Flaming June. After convincing her to join me under the oak tree I held her close and with my middle and index fingers I gently removed the rogue strands of hair that were stuck to her face. I remember looking deeply and contently into her warm yet mysterious eyes and kissing her as if it was for the first time.
I don’t know exactly how long I stood under that old oak but the sun was coming dangerously close to setting behind the rolling hills and was causing my good old friend to cast a shadow across the golden pasture. As I made my way around to the two large protruded roots I hung my head low, closed my eyes and with my left hand I ran it across its bark. My fingers then noticed something they have never felt before. It was a scar from a lightning strike. The scar was long and deep, its sinister shape told of a time when nature stood in opposition of my good friend. As a further examined my friends scar I could see that despite the harshness of the storm it was still standing. Its leaves still blew with the breeze and it still gave shade to the weary much like myself. This oak was here long before my father and it will be here long after my numbered days.
The sun had now set behind the rolling hills and the sky went from a deep blue to dark purple. I could see that the stars were now waking from their long nap and eager to show their form. As I looked up at its great branches I began to regain my strength. I found courage in its longevity, peace in its stillness, rest within its outstretched branches and the hope of healing from its deep scar. I then took a long deep breath and gathered my thoughts. As I started to make my way back to my pickup I fumbled my way through the dark and cautiously avoided any posts from the barbed wire fence. I sat in the cab of my pickup for a few minutes and reluctantly started it up. As I cranked the wheel I could once again hear that familiar crackle of rock and dirt underneath the wheel as I began to drive off. As I made my way back down that long dirt road I looked in my rearview mirror and admired the faint silhouette of my grand old friend. I began to imagine that someday soon I will take my children here and watch their eyes glow with excitement as they see my good friend for the first time. I then refocused my attention back to the road and quietly said goodbye to my old friend as I started my journey home.
After ordering a small red burrito at Del Taco Jake said to me “so Charles, what do you want to do with your life?” I wasn’t prepared for such a question to usher in the New Year especially at 1:30 AM and with a truck full of friends. I can’t remember my response but I’m almost certain that I fumbled through my words. It was a hard question from a friend that I deeply admire but I know his intentions were good and that he was genuinely curious. There are times that I simply don’t know the answer to such a question. As I sat in the passenger seat of my truck (let’s be honest it was a knob creek night) I thought about this question and I pondered it further when he asked Matt the same thing. My mind was going crazy trying to figure it out and the fact that I had four of my closest friends in the truck with me did not add to any clarity. I tried to focus in on the question but I was too distracted by Paul laughing at Derek while he repeatedly poked Jake in the ribcage. Despite these distractions I managed to find more, my world greatest lover button pinned on my passenger side sun visor lightened my spirits and gave much needed humor to my perplexed state. I can’t remember the following conversation to Jake’s question but I can remember it rapidly digressed to comments like “what in the hell is taking so long?” and “who gave you the worlds greatest lover button?” After the inevitability of natures call Jake got out of the truck to go into Del Taco. (Thanks to Matt’s extremely persuasive and persistent argument that we could still go into Del Taco at that hour.) Filled with the New Years spirit Jake wished a “Happy New Year” to the car in front of us and on the way back he politely helped the Del Taco employee hand over a large drink to an apparently extremely thirsty customer. After receiving our long anticipated quasi-mexican food we drove back to Derek’s house and continued celebrating the New Year.
I’ve given some thought to Jake’s question and I’ve come up with some conclusions. I simply don’t know what is going to happen, I can’t say when I’m 30 I’m going to do this or be that. All I know it that I deeply want to understand what it is to love the way Christ has called you and me to love. I want to walk with Him every day and take upon His yoke. I don’t know if I’m going to stand on the top of Mount Sulimon and hear the minarets bellow out the call to prayer or if I’m going to live a simplistic life in the suburbs of Los Angeles. I don’t know if my children will walk with the Lord or if I’ll even have children at all. I do know that I’ll still attend seminary because I deeply believe that God has called me into ministry at some point (although I don’t know what that is going to look like). I know that probably for the first time in my life I’m happy with who I am and that I cannot be anyone else but myself no matter how good or bad it may seem at times. I know that God deeply loves me and has proven Himself to be faithful over and over again despite my constant lack of. I guess for me the question isn’t what do I want to do with my life but it’s who do I want to be. I want to be deeply in love with Christ because He is deeply in love with me. I want to understand the beauty of His mystery and be the man he has called me to be. It has been an interesting 2007 and I have learned some hard truths and dealt with some harsh realities. Much like that old tree in Yosemite I have weathered cold winter storms and my roots have pressed deeper into the fertile ground of Christ’s love. And much like that same tree I will wait for the oncoming spring and celebrate a new beginning and when the winter storms come again I will look back and say “it was a good year.”