Cliff and I went to St. Louis for a two-day play date and feasted our eyes and our stomachs. An ad for the St. Louis Art Museum first caught our eyes, an exhibit of The Mourners: Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy; and second, we learned the Missouri Historical Museum was hosting Vatican Splendors; and third, we wanted to eat some really outrageous Italian food. A successful trip, all in all.
We had, in short, a weekend of life and death.
The Vatican pieces were, of course, splendid. And of course like all political machines, the words accompanying the pieces respun history, glossed over incongruities, and became, instead, peans to glory. We all know the history of the popes and the Church isn’t all glorious, but that doesn’t take away from the work we saw.
Michelangelo, Bernini, Caravaggio, Gentileschi were among those represented. In particular, there was a full-sized copy of Michelangelo’s pieta, one we could get close to. And it is justly famous for its beauty. I’ve never been to Rome, so I’m grateful for seeing even a copy.
And that evening we had dinner at Charlie Gitto’s on The Hill, an extraordinary Italian restaurant with not a drop of red sauce in sight. We didn’t even have pasta, rather a meal fit for living luxuriously. We managed to close that restaurant down and went on to a neighborhood bar our waiter recommended, decorated with chandeliers from the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Another history lesson from the bartender along with Irish coffees. We drove back to our hotel laughing all the way.
Tuesday we went back to Forest Park and The Mourners. Expecting full-sized tomb monuments, we were surprised by the 14 inch tall alabaster sculptures, thirty-two of them, a procession from choir boy to bishop to clergy to family and staff, all wrapped in mourning cloaks, from the tomb of John the Fearless (1342-1404), the second duke of Burgundy and his wife Margarite. Exquisite. The tombs are being renovated at a museum in Dijon, France, and the procession has found new life on tour. Sort of like Mick Jagger but not.
So I’ve been thinking about living and dying.
The trees outside my window, here where I sit and write, have lost their sheen and are settling into the early yellowish cast that means summer is coming to an end – we’ve passed the tipping point….”inching toward the end…” as the poet Billy Collins so aptly wrote. Yet even in this downward curve of summer, there’s still a lot of living going on. This morning, along with watering, I picked two more foot-long cucumbers from my garden.
It’s not easy to remember our own dying in the midst of living. Most of the time, we’re so pushed and pulled by the right now demands of our life that we forget we are “inching toward the end” in one way or another. Every breath. Every heartbeat. We forget in our rush to do and so leave undone the things we need to do – make amends, forgive, laugh, enjoy living.
Take some time these days to enjoy living. Even in this endlessly hot summer. Be conscious of your breath, look out the window. Let the corners of your mouth curve up in a smile as my teacher, Bhante Kamalasiri, used to say so many years ago. This is your gift. Right now.
There are endless things with which to be angry. But we die every day. And death, at least this life in this memory, lasts a long time.