For a moment pretend you are four years old, your nose pressed against the cold window pane, against the dark backdrop huge snowflakes fall and swirl in the street lamps’ golden halo, your tiny exhales fog the scene but magically it clears over and over again you are in rapture and you exist in this quietude of wonder for what seems like no time but in fact a half an hour or more has lapsed. Mom, or Dad or your favourite Aunt notices but doesn’t interrupt, distract or call you to dinner – as they are capturing this moment of your pleasure in their own memory to wistfully recall as the years slip by and you grow. The memory is palpable and shared, though you were blissfully unaware the gift your silent observation has provided. When your next birthday came around your tiny hands held the gift of a snow globe, and as you shook it the picture memory flooded back to you – because within the sphere was a small snowy landscape with a street lamp, exactly as you had experienced standing at the window as the snow and the street lamp merged into you and lit you from within.
Some memories are more powerful, have greater impact upon us in the long term than we can even begin to comprehend. And when we draw upon these moments of our lives they aren’t remembered as a short film with sounds and words and precise lighting, no, I believe that they are recollected as the miniature scene in a snow globe. The swirling flakes of iridescence in water obscure the memory and then as the snow settles we are provided clarity – just a very tiny vision of what was, but perfect, absolutely perfect.
My girlfriend Jennifer had invited me to accompany her on a road trip to Boston and I admit I had trepidation over such because there is a more tenuous hold on adult friendships than those of our youth – perhaps because we realise the fragility and impermanence of life – it’s ‘reasonable’ to at least think about avoiding circumstances that could undo something which we hold precious. Once reconciled that all would be fine, it was with the experience of being a tour guide in Niagara Falls for three years that I planned and plotted – and while it’s hard to know how anyone will receive what you present them, easier perhaps with anonymous strangers than a dear friend, I approached this with nurturance and love. I was all in to map out ‘a gift’ and while I culled what I loved most about living in Boston and surrounds in the hope of providing a transformative couple of days of beauty, peace and experiences – I admit the anticipation of being back in Boston swamped my heart and head. While it would never be possible to share the gains of emotional experiences found in solitary activities (like a child standing at a window) such as riding my bike along the Esplanade, skating alone at midnight one bitingly cold night under a full moon on the (rarely frozen) Public Gardens’ lagoon, singing carols by candlelight and street lamps as Christmas Eve snow fell on Louisburg Square, swimming at Rockport’s Front Beach in pre-dawn waiting for the sun to rise, sitting in the courtyard of Harvard’s Fogg museum listening to viola de gamba and harpsichord, oh, yes, a very personal collection of ‘memory’ snow globes each impossible to share but it was the essence of these experiences I wanted Jennifer to find ‘for herself’.
I appreciate, and I see, and I am moved to tears and reflection and joy, and contemplation over the creative endeavours of others – even when I don’t understand their work as they might have intended. I had the very great pleasure to stand before this piece of art last weekend in the dining area of the home of my new (old – turns out we both worked for the same tech company albeit a decade apart) friend Deborah Barlow and her husband David Wilcox. I won’t lie, the biomorphic nature of Deborah’s oeuvre is ‘over my head’ intellectually but mastery of anything can be felt if not understood. My immediate, non-edited reaction to this piece of art was it was a snow globe, newly shaken, and waiting to reveal its hidden secrets as the pearlised flakes swirled around in the space contained within the outlines of the frame and it made me happy – no, rather, nostalgic and happy and filled with anticipation of Jennifer’s experience of the ‘edited’ Boston I had selected for her (and for myself to walk again).
Within an hour of arriving in town we were at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, within two hours I was reaching a (desired) state of grace and white light in my solar plexus sitting in quietude in the MFAs Buddhist Temple. Jennifer sat on the opposite side of the main entrance and when I got up she also did, her eyes brimming with tears, in that moment incapable of expressing words she could only repeatedly nod her head as she looped her arm through mine to steady herself against the wave of emotion and peace the various Buddha’s had gifted her.
Memories come at us hard and fast and when we least expect them to, art is like that – or should be; we are transformed by being ‘present’ for the experience of someone’s gifts of artistry, how these affect and have effect on us. I might have initially connected Deborah’s work as a “snow globe” but now, forever, it will linked to the gift I hoped for Jennifer, transcendence.
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