I spend a lot of time on Facebook which satisfies my Aquarian need to communicate with as many people as possible. I am drawn to the political posts and initiate many of my own. I also, however, post images from the staggering beauty of northern New Mexico, usually of sunsets or mountains and trees illuminated by its other-worldly light. Whenever I complete a new painting, I post them on my personal page as well.
Although I receive many “Likes” and affirmative comments, over the summer of 2017, I was starting to feel guilty about it. In my mind, I saw myself as a well-off white guy posting pretty pictures while others were suffering. I felt there was more I should do to offset the negativity and hopelessness I viewed around me.
These doubts increased over the weekend in mid-August when neo-Nazis and other white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia.
As a Jew, I was more than outraged. I was terrified, especially after Trump gave them his official seal of approval. Once again, I asked myself, “Why am I posting pretty pictures when it appears that America is about to surrender to Fascism?”
The day after the Charlottesville murder, I received a request for a conversation from a friend of mine, an African-American woman I will call René to protect her privacy. She and I had met twenty years ago on a multi-racial pilgrimage to commemorate the horrors of African slavery in the New World. It was a march from Massachusetts to New Orleans. I participated for three weeks in North Carolina. I didn’t know René that well but respected her honesty and integrity. We had had little contact over the past two decades despite being Facebook friends. She currently lived in Seattle with her two children. Now – a day after one of the most blatant demonstrations of racism in recent memory - she was reaching out to me.
I had no idea what to expect, but much to my surprise, we talked mostly about personal matters. In the course of our conversation, she mentioned how much she loved seeing the images of New Mexico’s exquisite landscapes on my Facebook page. In response, I shared my own doubts about posting them in the midst of so much pain.
“Oh, no,” said René without hesitation, “people need to see pictures of beauty and hope, especially now. They get enough of the other stuff. Your photos and paintings always make me feel good when I’m feeling down.”
Her observation was mirrored several weeks later by Margie (not her real name) with whom I had taught for several years at a small elementary school in rural Massachusetts. Margie taught music for the entire district and always amazed me that she could quiet an auditorium of 400 children without raising her voice. In the course of our careers, we had become not only close friends but confidants. Margie counseled me during a particularly rough stretch of my life in ways that were almost telepathic. She had a way of getting to the heart of me and reflecting my best.
We hadn’t seen each other in three years. When I came east for a family visit, she invited me to brunch with her family and I happily accepted. We sat at the dining room table but before I could get in a forkful of scrambled eggs, Margie turned to me and said, “You’ve paid your dues as a political activist. You don’t need to do that anymore. It’s time for you to focus on your creative expression. And you don’t need to defend yourself to anyone.” After which, the conversation turned to lighter topics as I sat dumbfounded.
I still entertain my doubts about expressing beauty in the midst of chaos, but when two spiritually-attuned women, living on different coasts and coming from different backgrounds, both tell you the same thing, I find it wise to listen.