Yesterday’s room next door–that feeling of being in a room, separated by a simple wall that might as well be a chasm, from the room right next door, only that room belongs to yesterday. The echoes of voices, the dim music, words on yellowed paper, dried paint, a brush of a kiss, the faded picture of a loved one, the extinguished lives of those gone before…memories.
I press my ear to the wall.
The voices come muffled at first,
But if I listen closely,
Their love stories become clear.
The distant piano music always plays in the background,
But its song still has a story to tell.
Photographs hang from this old wall,
Frozen smiles where laughter’s echo lingers;
A feather-light finger touch caresses those tender faces.
I close my eyes and see more openly
As the wall fades away.
I reach, step, grasp, hold.
I hug every precious memory thread,
Knitting a fabric of a life that embraces me in return
As I sing along with the piano
And write rainbows onto black and white pages.
You see, yesterdays are all blended into today –
And I wonder what story my children will one day tell
Of my today in what becomes their yesterday’s room next door.
-Yesterday’s Room Next Door by Cynthia Hilston, 05.28.16
The first time I read something that made me wish I could reach across the vast expanse of time and talk to, touch, hear someone long dead was when I read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. That was in 2006. I reread her novel last year, and Charlotte’s words still hold in my beating heart. I read her words, words penned 170 years ago, yet she felt as close as a breath. I longed to know her like an intimate friend and mourned the loss of someone I had never actually met…and yet we had met in a way. I did know her.
Then that thick, impenetrable wall cracks. Bit by bit, pieces of drywall, wood, brick, stone, whatever material the imagination can conjure, it falls. Passion, love, memories…they speak across time, and yesterday’s room next door becomes one with today’s room. We all inhabit one Earth.
As I finished reading Lust for Life by Irving Stone (1934), the biographical novel of Vincent Van Gogh, tears blurred the words on those last pages. Van Gogh is dead. I know that. He’s been gone for 128 years. And yet…yet I was walking with that small group of mourners behind a black hearse on the day the few people who appreciated and loved him in life buried him. I followed up the hill, through the cornfield in Auvers–one of many Van Gogh painted. They buried his body, yes, but his passion would never be buried. How can you bury such passion, after all, when he has painted it into being with every brushstroke imbued with life? He lies under sunflowers, those faces of gold and orange he painted so tenderly, painting the life the flows through all of creation.
I often gaze upon my large print of Starry Night as I lie in bed. Van Gogh painted this most famous of his paintings while he was in the asylum at Saint-Remy-de-Provence. He was there in June 1889, a little over a year before he died. This print is a cheap imitation of the real thing, yet it’s the closest physical item I possess to one of his creations. Again rears the feeling of removal from the past. (Note: I plan to visit New York’s Modern Museum of Art at the end of September, where this painting is housed.)
He saw beauty in the ugliness of the world, in the common, the everyday, the struggles. He suffered mental illness, disease, starvation, being a social outcast, never receiving the accolades for his hard work during his lifetime. Seven people mourned at his grave.
Now millions visit art galleries across the globe to gaze upon his paintings, those priceless works of art.
When he painted, the need to create poured out of him–unbridled, wild, free. He could just a soon stop painting as breathing. I understand that urge, that desire, that drive, that passion. When I write, it pours from me like water from an overflowing cup. I’ve been asked how I can write whole books. To people who are not writers, they cannot grasp how I can write so many words. I reply, “I can’t not write.” Vincent couldn’t not paint.
Van Gogh tried many professions, all of which led to failure, to a feeling of self-doubt, of feeling worthless. He was an art dealer, a teacher, a minister, but none of those jobs were his livelihood. When he began drawing at age 27, he found his niche and never looked back, even when life continued to be a struggle.
Now, I haven’t had the life of poverty that Van Gogh lived–often by choice. I majored in biology in college and worked in a research lab for several years before having kids and becoming a stay-at-home mom. My kids are still young, so I continue as a homemaker. I wrote fan fiction for many years, afraid of writing something original. Yet the urge to write original works of fiction nibbled at my soul for years. I could no longer ignore it, and since 2015, I haven’t looked back. I’ve embraced my passion, my raison d’etre, just as Van Gogh did. And I love it.
Van Gogh’s life inspires passion, but his ability to take his pain and turn it into something beautiful drives deeper. He loved, felt, lived deeply, passionately. He didn’t shy away from ugliness, but rather embraced it and created imperfect wholeness from brokenness.
I weep for the lost love this remarkable man experienced, for his misery, for his agony, but I also cry in happiness at his legacy, his imprint on this earth. He saw no separation between the ground on which we walk and the people who trod it. All was one. All is one–one amazing, gorgeous creation under a whorling ball of lemon sun.
In Lust for Life, Vincent is visited by a mysterious woman named Maya, which means “illusion.” She says she’s been following him throughout his journey as a painter, but he asks her how this is possible. He even grows angry at her when she persists that she loves him. He has longed to receive a woman’s love all his life, so why now? She tells him his works will one day be on display throughout the world. He, of course, doesn’t believe her, for why would anybody want to buy one of his paintings after his death when they never did during his life?
Oh, Vincent, how wrong you were. Maya was real.
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