Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, Who is wise? The one who learns from every person…(Talmud - Avot 4:1)
My mother was always the wisest person I knew. She was a searcher with a curiosity about the world, open to wisdom from many quarters. A teacher by predisposition and later by training, she carried her wisdom in a kind and gentle heart. She passed away this summer and I felt the world shift. As I went through my parents' old home with that thankless task of disposing of belongings, I realized I was looking for something, something of the essence of my mother. I found that something in a file titled Notes on Books Read.
In it she had excerpts from books on a wide range of subjects; science, finance, the Talmud and of course novels. She knew wisdom came from multiple disciplines and her curiosity took her into many of them. If something spoke to her she wrote it down and her excerpts related to finding meaning in life, facing fears and making good use of our time in this world. We had often talked about books and as I perused this file I felt as if I was having one more of our many conversations.
I participate in the Jewish Artists' Lab whose topic this year is conveniently that of wisdom or more precisely Echoes: Voices of Wisdom. (I write a separate blog for this group which focuses on our discussions) This topic seemed especially apt as I leafed through the file. We do an exhibition after a year of studying our theme so I usually spend months contemplating and discarding ideas on our topic. Now I wondered how I could make use of the contents of this file artistically. How does one paint wisdom? I needed a metaphor on which to build.
My answer came when I contemplated a phrase I once coined to express my personal philosophy. "Take your piece of the world and make it shine" - making a difference where you are in the lives you touch. I shared this with my mother and it resonated with her; she quickly adopted it as her mantra. I suppose it spoke to me because I spent so much of my life observing her live it. She posted it over her desk, taking ownership of it. I now carry that statement in her handwriting in my wallet. It is indeed an echo amplified. From me to her and back again with deeper meaning.
When I thought of something shining, I thought of an apple. What better symbol for a teacher? Perhaps her face should be vaguely reflected in its polished image. An echo of sorts. I began to research the symbolism of apples. Do they tie to wisdom? What about that apple from the tree of knowledge that Eve bit into? Interestingly when I went to the original passage I found the observation that the tree was desired to make one wise. The apple tree is used as a metaphor for the maturation process, growing into readiness, an appropriate aspect of wisdom.
Words must of necessity also be incorporated into this artwork, words selected from her folder of readings. I've been asked what she read and thought I'd share some of her excerpts within this blog, especially some that I hope to include in this yet to be defined creation. This is how paintings begin, with fragments of ideas that if successful, knit together into a broader concept.
To allow me to do justice to it, I will share the words in my next entry. What better way to evoke my mother than through the words she selected as having personal meaning to her and in turn to me.