Big Bag

“I have a purpose in life,” the young man said. “It’s bigger than me. And you, what are you doing? Painting pictures that probably no one will ever see. Pictures of hills and roads and children and lakes and cities—and only the way you see them. You ought to find something more important to do with your life.”

“Important to whom?”

“Important to everyone. Look at me. I’m working for the Historical Preservation Society. We’re fighting to keep four hundred year old buildings from being torn down.”

“Why is that important to you?”

“To preserve history! To save it for future generations!”

“Why?”

“So they can see where and how their ancestors lived.”

“Why is that important?”

“It just is, that’s all. Everybody knows that.”

“Are future generations of people going to be happier looking at old buildings, rather than living in new ones, if property rights were protected and development took place?”

“Of course. They’ll be inspired.”

“Inspired to do what? To build new buildings when they’re not allowed to build, or to paint pictures when they’re told that that is selfish and small?”

“No. They’ll find other old buildings to preserve for even more future generations.”

“And what do you get out of all this?”

“I have the knowledge that I’m fighting for the future, that I’ve got a purpose bigger than myself.”

“So, the future is going to consist of a lot of old buildings standing empty with a lot of people standing around looking at them. What is big, or inspirational, or happy, about that? How is that better than me standing in front of one of my paintings and feeling a sense of quiet joy in the way I’ve turned a wave, or the ringlet of a girl’s hair, or have caught the pride in a man’s face as he merely sits, lost in thought, or have splashed with brilliant light the lips of two lovers as they kiss, or have shown the wrinkled, leathery beauty of an old woman’s hard-working hands?

“I make something new for my eyes to see, something fresh for my mind to interest itself in and respond to, to love for itself, and to love the response in myself as something great and important. I hold both my future and my present in my hands. You hold something that you can never reach, never achieve, for it is always beyond your self. Your purpose is a pretending, a pretending that you have meaning without creating your meaning, that you can get fulfillment by emptying yourself of all personal desire and self-responsibility. But you can’t, and so you are left holding an empty bag for others who hold their empty bags for still others, all pretending that there is an invisible, weightless, greatness in an empty bag. Better hold you bag with care or it might drop and pop.

“Where are you going? Why are you running away? You can’t, you know.”

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