“Mommy, what are you reading on your phone?”
“I’m reading about a word. Every day I get an email with a different word, telling me what it means. See? Today’s word is tractable. It can be used to describe a person. It means ‘Easily handled, managed, or controlled.’”
Another brief pause.
“You are not tractable. You are not at all tractable.”
And I had been smiling to myself because it seemed awfully ironic, reading this definition to Youngest, of all people.
* * *
It can be a bitter thing, coming up against what you cannot control.
* * *
Husband and I took a walk Easter evening. It was warm, the sky moving from dusk to dark. The lights along the walking path and along the street lit up the new life on trees and shrubs in magical ways. Buds like jewels, white-flowered trees like ghosts, all against a deepening blue sky. And I stopped more and more often to try to capture what I saw. And few of the pictures turned out.
We agreed that this is maybe the most frustrating and wonderful thing about a camera, at least from the skill-level from which we both operate: you cannot always get the camera to see what your eyes see. But sometimes the picture you end up with is still beautiful, and so much more than what you were trying for.
If this is not art and life all wrapped up together, I don’t know what is.
The lack of control we have in our lives can be painful and frustrating and harsh. I rail against it and exhaust myself fighting it. And yet when I can find the art in all of it—when I can pull the beauty out, or discover it shining in the middle of a stinking, heaping mess—that is grace and beauty and everything Best. Everything I love and want most. This is a mystery I both struggle with and want to sink myself deeply into.
* * *
This brings me back to Lent, and the Wordless series I recently finished to mark the season. This was the third year of this project, and each time I enjoy it and stress about it all at once. It is welcome in that so often I arrive at a point where I am sick of the sound my own voice—whether spoken or in writing. I want a break from it, and from subjecting others to it, at least for a time. Even though I know from experience that not speaking is a form of death.
And so, the pictures. This, people. I saw this today and it was beautiful. Or hopeful. Or full of meaning. Can you see it, too? Every day wondering if maybe this was the day I wouldn’t discover something, or if I did, that I wouldn’t be able to capture and share it. Finding one picture a day is not the biggest act of faith there is, but every day it tested me. Some days I couldn’t show you exactly what I saw, but the camera found something better. Many days I wondered if I was communicating anything at all. Every day I put whatever I had out into the world with a mixture of feeling compelled to do it and also unworthy. I’m not sure why I keep feeling surprised by that mixture of hope and hopelessness, but I do.
I know that the important part is acting on the hope. Pulling out the beauty. Seeing the light when it shines out from, or into, dark places. Walking right down the middle of tractable and intractable. This has to be what art is and what life is, all wrapped up together.