Thursday, December 31, 2015

Come Hither Angel

Seven hours and counting before turning to 2016. It feels like the end of the year. Cold, cold weather for Northern California (dipped into the 30’s at night!), our annual “snow trip” with friends and family to the West Point Inn on Mt. Tam. Hikes each day, rain and shine, communal meals, working out my repertoire on the old upright piano, reading, cards, group games and such. Wood fires, candles, kerosene lights, no electricity—mostly off the grid and wonderfully so. Spectacular morning views (in fact, the cover image this past year on this blog), prints from a mountain lion in the path, the Milky Way at night.

Four of us ritually walk down from the mountain to Mill Valley, bus to Sausalito, take the ferry to San Francisco and the streetcar back home, but this year cheated with a parked car in Mill Valley. Still a lovely descent, like walking the last mile of 2015, in convivial conversation with people who’ve known each other for 35 plus years. How it goes on.

Back early enough to go to the De Young Museum to see the “Jeweled City” Exhibit—artwork from the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. A significant event in the city’s history and humanity’s bid to bring the separate cultures into communication with each other, even in the midst of the First World War. There was artwork, new breakthroughs in science, technology, and even education—this was the event where Maria Montessori first showed the world her education approach, with a fish-bowl kind of classroom with people observing. (One of the kids in that class was the mother of one of our school’s founding parents!)

The centerpiece image that advertises the exhibit is from Arthur Frank Matthews, as shown (out of focus—sorry!) below. The title is significant:

                                            THE VICTORY OF CULTURE OVER FORCE

You see the presiding angel stopping the brute of war and materialism with her left hand while shining a light over the men, women and children who come bearing the gifts of culture celebrating life. That was one entire century and one year ago and one wishes that angel's left hand had been a bit more powerful. The creative force of culture and destructive force of greed and brutality shared the stage side by side and still do. But at least in terms of what the newspapers are willing to report, that horse and rider on the ride are rampaging unchecked through the country.

Maybe so. But maybe not. One gets bigger press, but the other is present, now and forever, and just about everyone I know personally is making some kind of effort to stand under its light.

Tonight I’m bringing in the New Year with a comedy show by Paula Poundstone at the Palace of Fine Arts, the very building that housed much of that century-ago exhibit still standing. Then meet with the usual gang for some Tibetan-bell ringing at the stroke. It’s a good time to re-invoke the angel and invite her down to help keep some equilibrium between the forces of light and dark. A good time to renew my own vows to help brighten that light and work to dismount the rider (especially in an election year!). So I’ll close with the end to my Holiday Newsletter:

Here’s wishing for—and working for— more beauty than bombs, more guitars than guns, more poets than pundits, more fun than fundamentalism.


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