It’s been a long hiatus. I’ve been occupied with the passing of a dear person who was much too young to die, and also with the agony of his equally dear partner, who is much too young to lose her love. Perhaps I shouldn’t share that publically with people who don’t know me at all, but there are things about it that actually do connect here, in the circle of art, design, and textiles. The mesh of things sometimes gives one pause.
This young man was a designer I worked with, who arrived four years ago with so much potential, and even quite a bit of accomplishment for a 24 yr old. But still, I believed some of his portfolio showed he still needed to develop. In particular, I found his use of a butterfly icon on his personal website to be a likely indicator of some unsophisticated choices. Well executed, I thought, but still a butterfly. Over the years of knowing and working with him, I began to think – and now completely believe – that he was actually rather courageous in this choice and that he knew quite well how to select his icon.
He was a deeply modest and gentle person. He went about his work with everyone, even rude and demanding people, as if each had some germ of authentic need that was worth respecting. Difficult people responded to his gentleness by gentling their own behavior. Less anger and frustration, more respect and trust. It was amazing to watch. Of course it helped a lot that he was also quite expert in his work, but that’s not enough in itself to inspire civility in some people. His life manner, it seems to me now, was something of a butterfly effect. That is, the subtlest movement in South America changes the weather in Central Park. Astonishingly, he changed our work community with mildness.
But he himself was also changed. It was the right environment for him and he came so fully out of his chrysalis, developed his skills at such a speed, it was dramatic to watch. This too we always assign to the butterfly. Transformation. He transformed, and he was transformed.
The most difficult challenge in these last weeks and months of his illness has been how to even begin to understand why someone so talented, loved, respected….and young could be taken away so suddenly. There just seems nothing right about it. Then, the morning of his memorial, I came across this famous line from Rabindranath Tagore, words that before had only peripheral meaning for me:
The butterfly counts not months, but moments…and has time enough.
When I got home from the memorial, there was mail for me, a consoling note from a loving family member, who did not know anything really about my lost friend, but did know my pain. It was a very comforting note, and on the cover of the card was a simple, hand-stamped butterfly. My heart broke open seeing it.
Then, that same evening I decided to stop by Sri Threads blog, which I’ve been too distracted to do for a long time. Stephen always posts something so beautiful I am filled with joy, and I really felt a need. What did I find? You should take a look at this butterfly, so very different than any saccharine representation one might come across. He will stare back at you in a most unnerving way.
As an artist, I’ve long believed we must look again at all things, irrespective of how mundane, banal, or overworked, to be truly conscious of the world. Some things are very hard to re-understand: hearts, kittens, flowers, and butterflies are among the most difficult for me. But there is nothing that cannot be seen again with a fresh view and profound meaning. Perhaps that is finally all we are really left with in making art. To experience again what is too well known.