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Hindsight blog

Muse on participatory democracy and the roles of all citizens including students, artists, the media, and of course, politicians. Presented by the Weisman Art Museum with the exhibition "Hindsight is Always 20/20".

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The Highest of Arts

Last Sunday was the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year. There were 8 hours and 46 minutes of sun. It was the first official day of winter, but here in the upper Midwest winter has already made itself known. I’ve shoveled the snow off my sidewalk 3 times in the past 36 hours and its 6 degrees below zero as I write.

Its midnight, the house is silent, and I’m thinking about that weightless place between joy and melancholy. The holidays always do this to me.

I’ll admit I cried three times in the last 24 hours. Once for close friends who are struggling; once for my mom, who died 27 years ago and who I still miss every day; and once at the Pantages Theater during the musical play, All is Calm, about the World War I Christmas Truce of 1914.

All is Calm chronicles an event which took place on the battlefield in Germany on Christmas Eve, 1914. In the dark of night, under a star-filled sky, a German soldier laid down his arms, walked out of his trench and sang Silent Night in the so-called No Man’s Land between the British and German encampments. Following his soulful lead soldiers on both sides laid down their weapons for the night, sang together, exchanged modest gifts and helped to bury each other’s dead. It was this last that brought on the tears. I instantly thought of the U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Though their in-country experience bears little resemblance to the trench warfare of the past, they still suffer the sight of wounded comrades and mourn their dead. Their sacrifice is enormous.

War Redacted Single Casket CROPPED.jpg
Untitled, 2007, from the series, War, Redacted, by Camille J. Gage

Loss occurs every day and everywhere, not just on the battlefield. Over the past year I’ve watched friends and family struggle to cope with life’s challenges: serious health problems, a child’s debilitating drug addiction, financial insecurity, job loss, and the death of partners and aging parents – of heart disease, cancer and suicide.

Why do we so often feel stranded in our sorrow and alone in our grief? The presence of loss and experience of pain, while intensely personal, is also extraordinarily common. It’s the tie that binds us but is often buried beneath a silent and soul-stifling stoicism.

The Christmas Truce of 1914 brought to mind a passage from Henry David Thoreau’s book, Walden. Thoreau wrote, “It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look…To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.?

This holiday I will aim to channel the artistry of that German soldier, who walked on to the battlefield and sang Silent Night – who was willing to be shot at, to die – to bear witness to our shared humanity and yearning for connection.

For everyone who has lost a loved one – and that is most of us – the holidays are a bittersweet time. May we find the strength to abandon our trenches and sing together to the stars.

For Juliet


Comments

If only we could all learn from the powerful stories of the past it could enable us to move beyond this stagnated place we are currently buried within.

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