The artists Christo and his late wife Jeanne-Claude created some of the most extraordinary pieces of art in the world. Running Fence, Surrounded Islands, Wrapped Trees, and The Gates are some of the best known. They are enormous environmental projects that take up to 25 years to plan and create. None of their exhibits are permanent.
The Gates was in Central Park in 2005, and I wanted to see it so badly, but I didn’t get the chance to go. My friend Beth did, though, and at the time she shared some amazing pictures:
Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s website describes their work in this way:
“Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s works are entire environments, whether they are urban or rural. The artists temporarily use one part of the environment. In doing so, we see and perceive the whole environment with new eyes and a new consciousness.
The effect is astounding. To be in the presence of one of these artworks is to have your reality rocked. You see things you have never seen before. You also get to see the fabric manifest things that cannot usually be seen, like the wind blowing, or the sun reflecting in ways it had not before.
The effect lasts longer than the actual work of art. Years after every physical trace has been removed and the materials recycled, original visitors can still see and feel them in their minds when they return to the sites of the artworks.
There is no other way to describe that the feeling of that effect other than to say it is magical.”
The artists have often been asked if some part of the exhibits could be made permanent and they always say no. I’ve never forgotten the reason Christo gave for this. He said that we feel the most tenderness for things that do not last. If things did last, our valuing of them would be lessened, perhaps, even deadened.
Thank you to everyone who wrote in with comments about Eternal Truth #5: “Nothing Lasts.” What amazed me about these comments was how many of you saw this “truth” as a positive one, or at least as having a positive aspect. Several comments quoted “This too shall pass,” and remarked that saying “nothing lasts” is as comforting as it is depressing. I myself couldn’t really get past the depressing part, so I learned a lot from what you wrote in.
I have a story to share with you that inadvertently became relevant to this topic (I had seen it going in an entirely different direction but, well, you’ll see what happened.)
Our house is surrounded by many trees, and in the house there are many large windows. So we can see a fair amount of tree life from the kitchen and the living room.
About six weeks ago, a robin made a nest in the Burning Bush about three feet from one of our kitchen windows. It was extraordinary. She was so close to us that we could see everything–every fibrous weave of the nest, the way her whole body swayed with the branches of the bush when she sat there, hour after hour after hour.
Then one day we saw the blue eggs–that exquisite robin’s egg blue (you have to look closely to see them in the picture below because they are under the leaves).
Gabe loved it. He got out his beanie baby robin and put her in a brown bowl on top of some cotton balls. She and her live counterpart became our Mama Birds, and we visited them every morning to check how they and their eggs were doing. One afternoon when there was a thunderstorm, we watched the real Mama Bird puff out her wings and get bigger so she could cover the whole nest from the rain.
We were really excited the day the eggs hatched. Gabe got to see the babies. I couldn’t wait for him to see Mama Bird feeding them, then watching them get bigger and flying on their own. But the next morning, the nest was empty, turned over on its side, hanging from the branches. Martin said it was probably a squirrel since the nest was turned over. “Something got them,’ he said. “Nature.”
I tried not to cry. We told Gabe that since the babies had been born, they all needed to move to a new nest. This seemed like an okay explanation to him, and honestly, it’s not really a good idea to anthropomorphize nature for kids anyway. But still. It was really sad.
I also tried to get myself to take a picture of the overturned nest but I couldn’t. We did take the nest down and put it on the porch so Gabe could look at it. It was beautiful and intricate and sturdy. All that work. All that time. All those hours, sitting and swaying in the branches. And then nothing.
So, my friends, as we already knew, nothing lasts. Not our beloved family members, not the things we loved and worked hard for but were taken from us, not even the company of friends we don’t think we can live without. But I couldn’t tell my 4 year old son this. His best friend is moving next month so he’ll find out anyway, but for now, I made up a silly story to protect him from something that he may not need to be protected from. I may have done him a disservice. Because wasn’t she beautiful? Didn’t we love her? Didn’t we learn things that we didn’t know before just because she was there, outside our window?
And aren’t we strong enough to take it all in? Can’t we give ourselves that much credit–that we have what it takes to be alive in this world even when it means letting go, over and over and over? I think we can. I think it’s worth it, and I know you think so too.
A poem today by Emily Dickinson, #587, for our Mama Bird, and for all of us, because this poem is about being grateful for things to care for, for the bliss of ministering, even when it hurts.
She’s happy-with a new Content-
That feels to her-like Sacrament-
She’s busy-with an altered Care-
As just apprenticed to the Air-
She’s tearful-if she weep at all-
For blissful Causes-Most of all
The Heaven permit so meek as her-
To such a Fate-to minister
Emily Dickinson #587