Stephen Evans

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Stephen is a playwright and author of The Marriage of True Minds and A Transcendental Journey.

The Three Pietas

“All-changing time now darkens what was bright,
Now ushers out of darkness into light” 
                                                                Horace

For much of his life, my father managed an appliance store called General Electronics at 4513 Wisconsin Avenue in Northwest Washington DC, just up the street from American University. There's a Starbucks there now I think.

They sold primarily General Electric appliances for local residents. But a large part of their business was selling appliances for export.

In DC, this was a booming market. My father knew the procurement officers from embassies, consulates, and military posts all over the world, as well as many of the staffers from foreign embassies in DC. I remember one of the staffers from the Norwegian embassy would bring us lefse from the home country, a boyhood treat Dad craved.

I worked at the store most Saturday’s from age 12 or so, as did my three brothers. After a few years, I knew the electrical specs for pretty much every nation from Japan to Jordan. I wasn’t as introverted then and enjoyed being on the sales floor, meeting people from all over the world,  surprised to find how much they valued things I took for granted, like washing machines and refrigerators.

The General Electric company offered sales incentives, and Dad often brought home new televisions or appliances, including the microwave my mother wouldn’t use at first. But their favorite incentive was travel. GE would host trips for groups of top salesmen (I suspect back then they were all men). Often the same people would go on subsequent trips, and they made  some lasting friendships and stayed in touch long after my father retired.

So once every couple of years, my parents would fly off to Europe and other destinations that seemed so exotic to me. The world felt larger then, yet despite the nuclear threat of the cold war, somehow safer.

I don’t remember all the places they went. Paris for sure. Madrid. Mexico City (twice I think). Acapulco.  Italy. Probably others.

I could figure it out. They took hundreds of photos, now stored away in a box until I get around to digitizing. They also kept matchbooks from all their travels, and my mother bought dolls from many countries.

And they bought other souvenirs. A painting of the Madonna from Spain. A silver ring (two actually, on different trips) from a Mexican silversmith. A replica of Michelangelo’s David. And three miniature marble Pietas.

I’m guessing the Italy trip was my mother’s favorite. A devout Church-Every-Sunday-Sodality-On-Saturday-Make-Your-Children-Go-To-Sunday-School-Even-Though-Its-On-Monday Catholic, she must have been enthralled by Rome. She visited the Vatican, saw the Sistine Chapel, had an audience with the pope (John or Paul, I’m not sure which) (and I don’t mean Beatles). And bought three copies of the Pieta, Michaelangelo's statue depicting Mary holding the body of Jesus.

They are sitting side by side now in the china cabinet, with the other curios she assembled, like the girl and puppy porcelain statue I have written about elsewhere. The Pietas differ in size by maybe half an inch, and have slightly different shades of white, from snow to cream. Perhaps the color has aged, or the marble is just different.

I have often wondered why she bought three. I never thought to ask while she was alive. Did she intend them as gifts? Did she plan to give them to her four sons? (I got the David, so maybe the three Pietas were for the others, who obviously needed more spiritual help).Did she want to help the artists who carved them? Or was she just so overwhelmed by the spiritual experience?

I don’t know. I’ll never know I suppose. The three pietas will always be a mystery, unless she was right in her belief, and we will all be together someday, and I can ask her. It would be like her to think that far ahead. She was a great planner, with a wry sense of humor. I can see her smiling as she bought them, thinking of how puzzled I would be many years later.

If she was right, one day (or no day) I will know the answer. And be overwhelmed by the spiritual experience myself. 

Yet, in some sense, it is the wondering that I crave. Keats had a phrase, negative capability, the willingness to live (and create) in a state of irreducible not knowing. In a state of wonder.  

Those who reduce belief to a kind of knowing may be missing this point: the gift of wonder is the essential condition of religion, of art, maybe of sentient life, essential because it impels us forward, closer to that now unreachable truth.

So I wonder about those three pietas. I really do wonder.

Recent comment in this post
Rosy Cole
Your penultimate paragraph sums it up well, that Life consists in faith, belief, in sheer creative industry. A life that demands p... Read More
Sunday, 01 December 2019 17:11
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1 Comment

Mending

Kintsugi (金継ぎ) is the Japanese art of repairing broken items with gold. The gold highlights the area of the breakage, with the idea that the history of the object is part of its beauty. My father practiced his own version of Kintsugi, though not with gold. Exactly.

My mother owned a small porcelain statue of a girl and a puppy, a Hummel or something like. It is an endearing image, or it was originally. With four boys and a continuing series of dogs in the house, that poor little girl endured many accidents during the fifty or so years she has graced our presence. The puppy somehow escaped mostly unscathed.

My mother loved the statue. So every time it was broken, my father brought out the Elmer’s glue and painstakingly tried to put her back together. I can’t begin to count the number of times, or ever forget the image of my 6’ 4’’ (and a half he would insist, just like John Wayne) father hunched over the table with his calloused hands tracing the delicate porcelain pieces with a toothpick, painstakingly applying the white adhesive.

The result was never perfect, or even close. Seams are visible everywhere. Some parts never fit back together right. Some are gone completely. But it is still Kintsugi to me–the mending preserves their history together. The gold is in the memory.

The statue now sits on the top shelf of my china cabinet, safely keeping company with other vestiges of that era. I think sometimes of giving her away. But I haven’t. I can’t. Who but me will see the decades of love melded in the mending? Who but me?

Yet now, we.

And that is mending too.

Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
A sweet and hopeful analogy of Life itself. Thank you :-) (Just an aside, I can't help picking up a hint of wistfulness on your ... Read More
Saturday, 02 November 2019 18:00
Stephen Evans
yes, I have wondered that myself. Maybe that is why she prized the little girl so. Though she had her outlets, Sodality at church,... Read More
Sunday, 03 November 2019 00:55
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2 Comments

Time to Sing

So there’s this cricket.

He comes to visit every August, and he stays in the wall of my bedroom.  His living room seems to be the window frame by my bed, I think because it is the best place to sing. It is long and slender, almost like an echo chamber.

 

He likes to sing.

Especially at night.

My hearing is pretty sensitive. And I find I am unable to fall asleep while he (or she – we’ve never actually met in person) is serenading me.

So if I have been a little grump lately I apologize. I am not getting as much sleep as usual.

Not to be un-neighborly, but I have tried to convince him to move. I drop essential oils in a small hole in the window frame, which are supposedly too aromatic for the species. I shoot compressed air down the chamber, hoping to convince him a hurricane is approaching and he should take (other) shelter.  I put in an ultrasonic device.

None of these have worked. But I refuse to take more drastic measures. I don’t want to hurt him; I just want him to find another place to sing.

I have also tried ways to co-exist. Noise generators. Ear plugs. These help, but not enough.

I thought perhaps he might be insulted at the lengths I would go to avoid his song. If someone did that while I was singing, I think I would get the hint. But he keeps on singing, even knowing that he is singing to himself.

But it occurred to me this morning that we are the same in this way. He keeps on singing whether anyone is listening. I keep on writing whether anyone is reading.

I’m luckier than he. Once his song is done, it is gone. My words will last a bit. I can’t say how long. But longer than I will, likely. And that is one of the things that keeps me writing.

He is singing now as I write this. And as I am singing in my own way here, I think: “keep singing little one”.

Everyone needs their time to sing.

Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
Permission to sing is a wonderful thing, especially if you are raised in a family that, for strange puritanical reasons, does not ... Read More
Saturday, 12 October 2019 16:35
Stephen Evans
My father sang all his life, very nice second tenor voice. He got a ukulele for Christmas once and loved to sing along with it. ... Read More
Sunday, 13 October 2019 03:20
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2 Comments

Memory

"I am grown old and my memory is not as active as it used to be. When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that never happened."   

        Mark Twain

Autobiography

Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
Some mischievous ambiguity here :-)
Sunday, 28 July 2019 23:28
Rosy Cole
In view of the above theme, I feel bound to add this: Back in the theater again after too many years. My new play, MONUMENTS open... Read More
Sunday, 28 July 2019 23:57
Stephen Evans
Very kind! ... Read More
Monday, 29 July 2019 01:25
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3 Comments

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Latest Comments

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Thanks. It's always an amazing transition from the grand show of October to the quiet of early Decem...
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Enjoyed the clarity of the writing, Ken.
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Your penultimate paragraph sums it up well, that Life consists in faith, belief, in sheer creative i...
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