Vincent van Gogh and the Possibility of Opposites

Photograph: Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night as reproduced by Maggie Padua
Among the usual items I found on bringing in this morning’s mail delivery was a flyer from Miller’s Ace, which is up the road a little bit from Front Royal in Stephens City. It is, apparently, a hardware store, but looking at the flyer they sent you’d think it was the local Guns R Us outlet. Everything from small pistols to shotguns to automatic rifles were in the flyer. Except for few tiny sections featuring paint and lawnmowers, every single inch of the four page flyer featured some kind of gun. I looked down to the dining room table where I had laid it down and shook my head. Well, I didn’t physically shake my head at it—because the motion was all in my mind—and though I was safe at home, there are times out here in the valley when it’s good that other people don’t know what you’re shaking your head at.

A little later, after I’d picked up Julien from school, we were heading back toward home when we came across yet another one of those pickup trucks flying a huge Confederate Flag out the back. As he passed by, the driver gave me that look I’ve seen so many times—that empty and evil look of someone who sees me and isn’t quite sure what the hell I am, except that I’m an “other.” As he gave me that look I was shaking my head at him. Calling him a dumb-ass, racist motherfucker. But he had no idea, because I was doing it without making a sound, without moving a muscle. Of course, when the time is right, you do make a sound—a big fat fucking sound—and you move every muscle as well as you can. But you have to be careful when you do it, because more often than not, they’re the ones with the guns. Me, I don’t carry that shit, but they do. Which, to me, just means that they’re the ones who are more afraid.

Julien and I went on home and took our usual afternoon nap. He still needs his mid-day nap, and I need the nap because I’m never able sleep more than a few hours at night. The afternoon nap gives me the sort of break I need to function. I think it also helps me resist that primitive urge I have within me to give the finger to every single goon like the one we just passed. It’s free speech, just like they’re free to express their idiocy and bigotry in the form of a giant flag they wave from their jacked up pickup truck. But some free speech is protected more than others. It kind of depends on where you are. But then again, maybe it doesn’t. And when your so-called free speech attempts to communicate, legitimize, and put a stamp of approval on hate and heinous ideas, that’s another matter. And that’s why I say as far as the Confederate flag goes: Burn that motherfucker down. And when it’s burned down, I can sleep a little bit better. But not much.

Usually, I have to wake up again in an hour and half to pick up Maggie, but today we were able to sleep a little longer because until the end of the week, she’s in New York. She’s there to take part in this week’s Model United Nations activities with the other sixth graders from her school. Although I have my disagreements with the school’s methods at times, one thing that always stays with me is when during an event at the Front Royal Moose Lodge, the school’s founder explained that she began the school with idea of having an institution here that promoted peace.

Like most people from my generation here in America, I grew up playing with toy soldiers, playing cops and robbers, playing with toy guns. But I grew out of it. A lot of people didn’t, and a lot of people grow up believing in the beauty and glory of guns and the necessity of violence as a means–and, to them, the only means–of solving any number of problems. For the big business of war, that’s a good thing. As for me, I try as much as I can not to do things that aid the big business of war. Or promote the concept that this is America and that America has the right to just take whatever it needs from whoever it wants to. All of which is to say that a school that seeks to promote peace is going to get my support.

A few times this week, Maggie asked if any of the museums in New York would have some of Van Gogh’s work, because one of her school’s planned excursions, in addition to the United Nations events, was a trip to the Museum of Modern Art—and Van Gogh was an artist she just recently became fascinated with. Earlier tonight she called to say that they had just come back to the hotel from dinner, and that before the evening’s United Nations activities, she and her group from school had gone to the Museum of Modern Art. It was there that she saw, in person, Vincent Van Gogh’s 1889 painting The Starry Night.

Van Gogh, who out of many disturbances, managed to bring forth The Starry Night and so many other works of beauty. Who, at the age of 37, no longer able to handle the sadness and despair he felt, apparently shot himself. Who in his own way brings to mind the futility of the many forms of violence, and sets me wondering about the possibilities of its opposite.

-Jose Padua

Photograph: Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night as reproduced by Maggie Padua

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