“Now, since our condition accommodates things to itself, and transforms them according to itself, we no longer know things in their reality; for nothing comes to us that is not altered and falsified by our Senses. When the compass, the square, and the rule are untrue, all the calculations drawn from them, all the buildings erected by their measure, are of necessity also defective and out of plumb. The uncertainty of our senses renders uncertain everything that they produce.”
Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592), French essayist
Plum and level by David Ralph Johnson
Sometimes my husband drives me crazy. It's an odd kind of crazy though. It's a completely frustrated, want to scream kind of crazy that almost always makes me laugh in the end. Sometimes I laugh right away. Sometimes I hold back that laugh just to be sufficiently crazy to make a point. And sometimes the laugh comes much, much later. The latter is most unfortunate and I'm working on that one. We are both very artistic and passionate people, romantics at heart. What makes our life so fun is that quite often, most often, we travel along the same path. Walking through an art gallery or down a city street with him is one of the most enjoyable things in my life. But there are also those times when our ideas, our visions, our passions seem like they are polar opposites. Or maybe we just don't share the vision at all. The above photo, prior to its creation, when it was simply the formulation of my husbands (sometimes wild and wonderfully abstract) imagination, frustrated the hell out of me. Pure and simple. Every time he made mere mention of it I shuddered at the (what I thought was) simple and obviously lacking in substance artistic nature of it. Completely deprived of depth, about as subtle as a knock-knock joke. (Yes, I can be that harsh!) I assumed it was a silly idea and that was it.
This past week or so I have observed a number of painful "situations" on the internet. As we all well know, the internet can be a really wonderful thing, but it can also be fertile soil for the growth of misunderstanding and suffering. I remember when my mother tried to have a facebook page. Every misplaced punctuation, every short sentence, every lack of response sent her into emotional panic. No matter how often I tried to tell her that she should not "read into" these things, her heart continued to break. I saw the same heartbreak this past week when the mother of a child with cancer was devastated by the comments or lack of comments from a life long friend. A friend that I know deeply cares for her.
Another situation I witnessed was in regards to the comments left on an article a good friend of mine wrote. The article was pertaining to an incurable chronic illness and the devastating toll misdiagnosis can take on one's life. An assumption was made by a person commenting that the author's illness not only could, but mostly did stem from unacknowledged emotional pain. The commenter made this assumption based on her own experience and the success of her treatment. No matter how often the author replied that she had researched that possibility and emotional factors were not the cause of her illness, the commenter accused her of being in denial and therefore creating her own illness. She simply could not see that the author's situation could be different than hers.
Which brings me back to my husbands picture, Plum and level. Thankfully David Ralph Johnson is also not only artistic, but quite strong willed. In fact, he often says, if you want me to do something, just tell me I can't. And I am so happy that he did. First of all, the minute I saw the picture I fell in love with it. For so many reasons I don't think I even know them all. Secondly, what a profound lesson I needed to learn...again. How quick I am to assume. How quick I am to judge based on my own experience. As Michel de Montaigne states, "Nothing comes to us that is not altered or falsified by our senses." Ahhh, so true!
To be plumb, an object is exactly vertical or perpendicular. It also means things like "precisely, directly, absolute, to examine closely to discover the truth and out of or off true". I like the irony here. In light of the things going on in my life right now, the picture begs a deeper question of me that I am not so sure I know the answer to. A far cry from "simple and obviously lacking in substance"! But what I do know is this, it's hard not to make assumptions. We go on what we have, and what we have is our very own, very personal life experience. It takes conscious work to step outside of ourselves and look at things from a different perspective. And maybe, if you're lucky enough, if you happen to be plumb and level, you'll find yourself laughing in the end.