A friend’s trying to teach me to live according to principles, rather than by my likes and dislikes. …..I generally agree with him, and only used the word “trying” because knowing pizza gives me an upset stomach doesn’t always prevent me from eating pizza.
Understand that my friend’s not making arguments about pizza. That’s small potatoes, and he’s talking about the Whole Enchilada.
“When good things happen, you’re happy; when bad things happen, you’re sad,” he said. “You go up and down, always up and down. Human beings do this. It’s not the best way.”
He’s making the same point Rudyard Kipling makes in his poem, “If”: “If you can meet with triumph and disaster/And treat those two impostors just the same.”
My wife has her own take. When deadlines and commitments at work and home threaten to overwhelm, she sometimes recalls a picture she found in a book. A monk has a pot of vinegar sitting in front of him. His finger is in his mouth, and he’s smiling as if to say, “Life is sweet.”
If you’re anything like me – and I hope not, for your sake – you might be thinking, dang, what a tough standard to live by. When I told my friend, he smiled.
“Only saints can do it all the time,” he said. “We try. We fail. We keep trying. It’s like this.”
The way I figure it, the first step is to distinguish between important and petty things. Let the big stuff knock you around, but keep the small stuff in perspective.
So it was OK for me to have a rough Monday after learning that Northeast Mississippi artist Billy Kirk had died the week before. A few years ago, Mighty Daily Journal photographer Deste Lee and I spent an afternoon with Billy. He was an impressive talent with a teacher’s heart.
“There are visual clues that tell us when something is close to us or far away, moving or standing still,” Billy told me in 2004. “An artist uses all these things to create not just the scene, but the mood of the scene. There’s a lot more than just copying what you see. We’re trying to say something about what we’re painting.”
I hadn’t spoken with Billy in years, but news of his death took me back to his old studio, where he’d used straightforward words to explain the motivation behind his art.
“You’re trying to show everyone who looks at it what impressed you about it in the first place,” he said. “You want to show them what made this painting a thing worthy of your time.”
Thanks to Billy, we have a working definition of important: “Whoever and whatever are worthy of your time.”
The vinegar of his death will never taste sweet, but the principles Billy lived by are worth chewing over.
“What I’m trying to show people in my work is a recognition that God has given this beauty to us and made us stewards,” he said. “Beauty is in the grand things and it’s in the small things, too. Everything has its own essence.”
Contact M. Scott Morris at (662) 678-1589 or firstname.lastname@example.org.