“In art, either as creators or participators, we are helped to remember some of the glorious things we have forgotten, and some of the terrible things we are asked to endure, we who are children of God by adoption and grace.”
–Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water
When my friend Melissa lost her mom to cancer, she says she didn’t cry much if at all. She couldn’t find the emotion to go along with the heartbreak of losing her mom. She couldn’t reach it, grab hold of it, and move it up to the surface. It was too deep. And so it came as a great surprise to her when she discovered herself in a heap of blubbering, slobbery emotion during You’ve Got Mail. You mean to tell me she could easily find tears to mourn the last days of the Shop Around the Corner but she could not manage to locate them for her mother?
Yes. That is it exactly. And Madeleine L’Engle puts into words that very simple truth of being human — art makes it possible for us to remember, both the beauty and the banal, the lovely and the loss. Art numbs the wound just enough for us to be able to access the source of it, to reach down into the depths and pull it up to examine.
The beauty of art is that it separates us enough from our own pain in order to make it safe to approach. This movie, this novel, this musical, this song isn’t my story, and so I can freely let myself identify with it. And in the freedom, the tears have permission to fall. And in the tear-fall, I realize that this movie, this novel, this musical, this song holds pieces of my story after all.
Art is a gift, and the artist’s secret is that she carries in her hands the tools of a healer. You might think just the opposite, think you have nothing to share until you are whole and well and put together. We may admire your wholeness, but we can touch your brokenness. Are you still trying to talk yourself out of your art? Please don’t. We, a broken and hurting people, so desperately need it.
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