“How can he be so blind?!,” my book group member still looked horrified at Edmund de Waal’s actions, “He put this piece of art in his pocket. With his keys and other metal objects! He’s a ceramicist– he knows the value of the netsuke! How could he treat them that way!” And so began a new stream of discussion at our Artful Readers meeting, this time held at a cozy art-book lover’s dream of a shop. Shelves filled with books lined the walls, books stacked up on the table, the floor and in front of the shelves sequestering a small couch and chairs in the center of the shop. Ironically, it was a rather distracting place to discuss our most recent title, de Waal’s The Hare With the Amber Eyes, because I kept reading the titles around me.
I pulled my eyes away from the bindings that stated Picasso, Renoir, and Manet to focus on the topic at hand: how people can be so sensitive in one area but a complete knucklehead in another. de Waal, a world renowned ceramicist who studied and wrote a book about the history of the small Japanese netsuke in European culture and in his family, often carried one in his pocket. Netsuke are made of wood or ivory and the carving process is long and painstaking; so the artists in my group were rightly upset at his lack of awareness of the damage they could incur sharing close quarters with keys.
Since that meeting I’ve noticed this duality in others, and it is amazing that one person can inhabit two different modes of being. The first being my husband who has a demanding job that hinges on attention to detail, but is also one who cannot stack the Tupperware by size if someone paid him (which is why I put dishes away). Then there is the student who caught me off guard one day after school and informed me that he wants to “save” the school. He clarified: “Spiritually. I want to save the school spiritually.” While I didn’t go into a discussion with him about how there are a variety of beliefs represented on campus and not everyone wants to be saved, I admire his goal of wanting the best for others. I did wonder the next day how he would respond to the warm-up prompt about truth. Is there one Truth or many truths? (This was in conjunction with Robert Frost’s poem “Birches”.) My assumption was that he would say that there is one Truth: that of God. Sharing his response with the class, he stated “There is the one truth of what is or what happened, but we can have many truths, such as beliefs. My truth is what I believe, and your truth is what you believe.” I wanted to have a conversation with him about how his thoughts on truth aligned with his desire to bring his peers to salvation just to hear his thoughts on the matter.
A little less weighty, but no less confounding, is my very timid boy who speaks to me with nods and shakes of his head. He has written about his dance troupe and how much he loves dancing. All term I’ve been staring at him, thinking, “He has to be putting me on. Him? A dancer? He gets flustered when anyone speaks to him!” At last Friday’s rally there were many dance performances, and he lead one group out onto the floor and just tore it up. He was the obvious leader and exuded confidence and charisma. My jaw dropped to bottom of the bleachers.
Today we read the scene in Pride and Prejudice where Darcy proposes to Elizabeth and Elizabeth lays it out to him why he is last man she would ever be prevailed on to marry. Elizabeth, so rational and intelligent, has quickly and harshly judged Darcy, and though she values fairness and equality, never gives him an opportunity to defend himself nor does she consider his side of the story (until chapter 12 when he thrusts his letter into her hands).
So how is it that we can be one way and yet, at the same time, the complete opposite? Why do we have these gaps? What purposes do they serve? Are we like the many-varied truths? Does all of our energy go to certain parts of ourselves and not to others?