The ache of ephemeral experiences

by Steve Brock on May 4, 2015

Murrow Drawing

Good Friday has come and gone this year. What I take from it is a story both overly recognizable and endlessly new.

What made this story of suffering, death and greater love so powerful this year was the use of sand painting during the Good Friday service at our church. As various pastors and elders read each of the final seven sayings of Christ on the cross, an artist created images of each scene using only her hands and sand. She poured and then spread the sand around a large glass plate while the image was projected onto a larger screen for the audience to see. Her “paintings” displayed great depth, texture and nuance.

The most powerful moment, to me, came when each reader finished his or her narration. The sand artist would then take this incredible work of art and, with a wave of her hand, erase it. One moment we were looking at a rendering of Jesus and the thief, side by side on their respective crosses. The next, steaks of sand shadowing the bright background.

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Last week, I read about an artist, Ethan Murrow, whose drawings in graphite on paper were on display at the Winston Wachter Fine Art gallery in Seattle. My two sons and I were in the area, so we drove to the gallery to view the drawings. Phenomenal, both in technique and concept.

My favorite image of all was one called Wagon Train (shown above). I loved the subject matter but when I looked closely, I realized that Murrow hadn’t drawn this one on paper. Instead, according to our guide there, he had spent four days with a Sharpie drawing the image on one of the gallery walls. And when the show is over, they will, amazingly, just paint over this image (which, if on paper, would likely be sold in the $15,000 to $20,000 range).

One day, beautiful art. The next day, another painted wall.

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I want to hold on to things of beauty. Make them last. Enjoy them over and over. But these two experiences, like certain moments on trips, inform me that there is another way.

Sometimes our greatest experiences are ephemeral. They are momentary, one-of-a-kind wonders that do not, cannot and were never meant to last.

For example, have you ever sat in a lovely restaurant or at a sidewalk café or on a bench overlooking some landscape and you find your heart catching in your throat because the scene, the moment is so beautiful? I have literally ached with a joyful sorrow in places where I never wanted to leave even as I knew I never could stay.

These ephemeral experiences are often some of our most poignant and meaningful. I find myself desperately wanting them to last even as I know that if they did, they would cease to be as special.

And so when confronted with art that disappears in minutes or days, a meal that lasts only as long as it takes to eat, a place where I can visit but not tarry or a person I can meet but not know deeply, I can simply give thanks and appreciate what I have experienced.

We need not possess something to be changed by it.

 

 

 

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