Posts Tagged ‘Edvard Munch’

This Mortal Coil

August 28, 2020

Adam and Eve by Edvard Munch

In Love Medicine, a novel by Louise Erdrich, young Albertine Johnson is tasked with protecting the pies by her grandmother, who leaves a family gathering before it descends into drunken mayhem:

“They can eat!” Grandma yelled once more. “But save them pies!”

During the melee that ensues, Albertine heroically manages to prevent her cousin King from drowning his wife Lynette in the sink. But she can’t save the pies:

All the pies were smashed. Torn open. Black juice bleeding through the crusts. Bits of jagged shells were stuck to the wall and some were turned completely upside down. Chunks of rhubarb were scraped across the floor. Merengue dripped from the towels.

Later when she wakes up, Albertine does what she can for the pies:

I spooned the fillings back into the crusts, married the slabs of dough, smoothed over the edges of crusts with a wetted finger, fit crimps to crimps and even fluff to fluff on top of berries or pudding. I worked carefully for over an hour. But once they smash there is no way to put them right.

With the possible exception of Ella Fitzgerald singing Blue Skies, there’s no perfection in this world. We’re all broken in some way, just like those pies.

Christians tell us we’re living in a fallen world as punishment for the sins of Adam and Eve. I don’t believe this, but it’s a useful metaphor for the human condition.

It’s important to accept Existence on its own terms. Everything in this world is flawed. There’s a lot you can do to make life better for yourself and others, but you can’t fix the world; you can’t fix your friends; you can’t even fix yourself.

Like Albertine Johnson, you can try to make things better. If you try really hard, you might be as heroic as Albertine — you might even make the world a little bit more beautiful. Making the world a little bit more beautiful is a monumental achievement.

The Past Is Not the Future

How do we make the world a little bit better when human beings are so full of greed, stupidity, pettiness and cruelty? Well, it ain’t easy. But trying is all we have.

For example, we can learn from the past, but don’t get stuck there.

Sheryl Crow was right: Every day is a winding road, a new opportunity to try to do better.

The past is not the future; don’t make it a prison.

As T.S. Eliot reminds us:

The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been.

East Coker

You’ll never fix the world, but there are some helpful strategies for facing this mortal coil with dignity. You can start by taking a deep breath and letting it out really slow.

by Richard W. Bray