Sunday, June 30, 2013

Waterlilies and Life Reflections

Today I am going to Kansas City's Neslon Atkins art museum for the first time in a long while. I think the last time I visited was when my dad came to see me sometime last October. There are a lot of things I like about the Nelson. It's big. It's interesting. It's free. I really like that it's free. I also like that it's quiet. And cool. Not cold, mind you, but cool, in a way that allows your heart to slow and your lungs to involuntarily slow down.

The Nelson is not one of those insurmountable collections of art that you'll never work your way through in a single afternoon. It isn't MoMA or the Chicago Art Institute. And it certainly isn't The Louvre or The Vatican. It's smaller. Calmer. There's no pressure to get your money's worth (since you didn't pay in the first place), and no need to queue in line. You don't even need a map unless you're one of those people who gains security through knowledge of their whereabouts.

Despite all of this, I typically need a good reason to go to the Nelson. Usually that reason is a personal visitor or a group outing, as it happens to be today. The first time I went to the Nelson, however, I was on my own. It was September 16th, a Thursday. I had only recently moved to Kansas City and was looking for ways to maintain my sanity and appreciate my setting in between all of the job applications and resumé editing that I hoped would lead to a job.

I remember walking in and wondering why more museums weren't free. I breathed in the cool, air conditioned air, laced with the scent of stone and marble. I exhaled and wandered through the sarcophagus of Ka-i-nefer, a local celebrity among Nelson regulars. I've always had a thing for ancient Egypt - the gods, the myths, the makeup, the hieroglyphics. I became absolutely giddy when I saw my first onyx statue of Anubis at the Vatican museum in Rome.

From across the room of the impressionists' gallery I caught site of the soft pastel dabs of waterlilies. Monet's water lilies. Not realizing that the man created over 250 of these paintings in the later part of his life, I sank onto a wooden bench and spent a full five minutes gazing at the piece. Behind me I heard two middle-aged women discussing the painter and his home outside of Paris. "You know," said the one, "there is this little museum in the Orangerie of the Tuilerie Gardens. It's very intimate. A special place to see his work." I thought on that, wondering what kind of person living in Kansas City is capable of discussing the various art museums of Paris.

Little did I know that within the next three years I would visit Paris myself, not once, but twice, and that I would remember the woman's words and seek out the Musée de l'Orangerie, where eight of Monet's massive waterlily murals fill an entire oval-shaped room. I would go there with my boyfriend and we would queue in line for nearly 45 minutes on Paris's annual "museum night" in order to get in for free. Eighteen months later I would return to Paris on my own, this time for a full three months. And though I would not visit the Orangerie again, I would pass by it on my way through the Tuleries, and I would remember that night and the bit of overheard conversation that brought it about.

I like when these moments happen. When something in my present life causes me to look back on the past and to realize how much has changed - in my family, in my surroundings, in my life, in myself. I can get so caught up with keeping up and moving forward that I forget to look back. I forget to realize that I am living the life I used to dream of - not in an idealistic sense, but in a real and hopeful way. When I was a little girl, I used to dream of the day that someone would ask me out on a date and I would get all dressed up and we would have beautiful food in a fancy restaurant. I dreamed of the day I would get my first job - as a waitress, as a writer, as a youth director. I hoped for the day when I would move far from home (typically to New York or Chicago) and set up my home in a tiny over-priced apartment.

When you're in the throws of navigating that relationship, finding that job, or looking for that tiny over-priced apartment, you forget that you are living the future you used to hope for. Now, it may not be exactly how you hoped (If it was, I would currently be working on a book of poetry and washing the bottles of my second child), but it will be. It is. You are. Now.

I sometimes catch myself dreaming of the future - my first published novel, the husband I haven't met yet, starting a Fulbright in an undecided country - and at times, it is at the expense of my present. Of a summer Sunday when I run in the cool of the morning, shower in the quiet of my home, and take my breakfast while reading a novel on the front porch swing. I didn't know that at 26 years old my life would be like this. I wasn't always sure I would want it to be. But that's the beauty of remembering the past. Sometimes you don't realize where it is that you are until you have a reason to look back on where you came from.

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