Twenty years ago when my late mother visited us, she brought a poster she had picked up at an exhibit of the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh, the famous Dutch post-impressionist artist 1853-1890. Unsuccessful, he committed suicide. Creative folk can be depressive; I have wondered whether if I could be completely free of my mild depression, but at the expense of my writing urge, would I do it? I suspect I would not. Van Gogh's success began after his death, slowly building, until now he is recognized as one of the formative artists of our world. I can't say I saw much in him myself, but we put up the poster, VAN GOGH IN ARLES, where we had wall space, which was in a downstairs bathroom. I could see it in the mirror as I brushed my teeth. I think I have looked at that picture more than any other in my life, simply because it was there when my eyes had nothing much else to do. And I came to appreciate it, and Van Gogh. I bought a huge book of his paintings, containing everything except the one we have, and read about his obscure life and sad death. Because he messed it up; he shot himself, but didn't kill himself immediately; he took many hours to die, saying even in this he was a failure. Too bad he couldn't have lived longer, to see his phenomenal later success.
Anyway, I stared at that painting, backwards in the mirror, many times a day, for twenty years. At first it seemed to be just a smearing of colors horizontally across the canvas. Then I realized that one band was more like a flowering hedge, and that gave definition to the foreground. Years later I realized that the hedge was more like a planting, dividing two lots, and there was a path through it. I tried to fathom where that path might lead, but couldn't locate it beyond the hedge. More recently I realized that there was another house in the painting. Or there had been, before the artist changed his mind and tried to mask it with a tree. The house is still there, masked, however; the artist in me can see it well enough. Stage by stage I came to understand the painting, perceiving the larger scene.
And that I think is a way of looking at life. We can't see all of it at first, but as time passes we pick up on more of it, until at last we have a pretty fair notion of its magnitude, though perhaps not a very great comprehension of it. We view it backwards through time, and episodes of childhood don't have quite the same meaning they did when we were younger. Who is to say which view is more accurate? All we can do is keep looking and pondering, hoping to get it closer to correct. Hoping that what we are will not entirely fade after we pass on, as Van Gogh did not.