Flaming June by Frederic Leighton

Sweeping the Nation with Sentimental Hogwash

Recommended Reading Soundtrack:  Keep Breathing by Ingrid Michaelson

The past week. I have felt unsure of what to say. Between the UC Santa Barbara shootings, to the death of Maya Angelou and the release of an American POW after 5 years of imprisonment- it seems that the world seemingly continues its typical journey of inhaling and exhaling. A journey of ups and downs, where we are all collectively growing and contemplating big questions. In today’s world we are more connected through technology than ever before. We are vastly aware of our global challenges and their many potentials. Ironically it is prompting a contemplation about the nature of human love and the connection that exists outside of technology. The connection that comes from some place impossible to label, yet we feel compelled to search for it and understand it as it is felt on a grander scale due to the oxymoron that is technology.

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As I was tidying up some dishes the other morning in contemplation, I picked up a coffee cup that was given to me 16 years ago as a gift during more transitions. The gift displayed one of my favorite paintings by Frederic Leighton, titled “Flaming June.” I received the gift after I had just witnessed the painting’s phenomenal power with my own eyes and heart in an exhibit at the National Gallery of Art.

I had just moved out of my parents’ home and into a group house in Northern Virginia. My best friend’s sister, Jane, gave me this mug for Christmas- and on it was a quote by William Shakespeare from Hamlet, “We know what we are, but know not what we may be.”

I love gifts like this. Some may label them as “sentimental hogwash” like the greedy Mr. Potter in the film “It’s a Wonderful Life,” but they tell a story whenever I look at them. Hundreds of moments flow through my mind, and I’m suddenly carried down a river through time and whisked into old places that seem new again because I am viewing them from the fresh (you could insert cynical in here, but let’s not go there today!) perspective of my older self.

Look at Maya Angelou. What a life! I mean, her voice was a shining example of how one can harness their power through choice and thrust it forward only to create joy like she probably couldn’t have imagined when she was young, sexually abused and mute for 5 years. Our life’s story is a part of us, but it doesn’t have to solely exist as “what we may be.” Our past and our potential exist in tandem, dancing with nothing but a fine line between them.

Our life story is the driver for choosing something that goes beyond what we think we are, it is the backup plan- the place we can revert to if we feel like we don’t know who we are anymore. There is a great Sex in the City episode where the main character Carrie loses years of work on her laptop when her hard drive crashes and burns, leaving her angry and speechless. Then she is asked the ultimate crap question, “When was the last time you backed up?” The problem? She had never backed up, and that was the end of that story- but not the end of what she “may be.”

“But ‘baby fish mouth’ is sweeping the nation?

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Sometimes I feel like Harry and Jess in “When Harry Met Sally” during their Pictionary game. I’m struggling to understand what is being communicated, from “Mick Jagger is a baby?” to “baby fish mouth,” when all Sally is trying to say is “Baby Talk.” Maybe “baby fish mouth” really is sweeping the nation. But then, clarity arrives. While I was driving on the evening of Maya Angelou’s death, NPR played her recitation of her poem, “Still I Rise.” I cried as I listened to her striking words. They struck my heart like a masterful musician commanding their audience. She commanded me to remember, that amidst all the chaos that appears in the world around us, hope really does win every time, no matter how much my ego wants to shout “sentimental hogwash!” There are always going to be Potters in this world, but the most powerful ones exist in our own demons.

As Ms. Angelou spoke, so did my heart-

“Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.”

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