How to Live as a Beautiful Work of Art

My friend Al works with stained glass. Accompanied by a box of band-aids and the CBC, he hones his craft. Like all who strive for mastery, he studies the ones who excel. How the masters work with their errors powers his current investigations for, as he says, "everyone makes mistakes."

The challenge of the artisan is to let the error take the piece to a new level. Camouflage becomes a triage response.

I have a soft spot for artisans.

Moving around the Santo Spirito Square market in Florence, I could spend hours with the knife maker who displays Santinami knives on his table, with the man in his early 30s, who binds books and sells under the name StudioMalErba or the leather workers. 

Does the final product exceed the original design? Does the design reflect specific historical roots, or have many streams fed this current of creativity? What influenced the choice of materials? I could go on.

My lack of fluency in Italian constrains my questions and preserves elasticity in the patience of my travel companions. I brush past products that roll off a production line, perfect as they may be by some criteria.

I suppose I look for character, originality, authenticity, and excellence. 

I am not one of those who will arrive at life's terminal and announce, "No regrets! I made all the right choices and maximized all my opportunities." Perfection can be beautiful, and I am not immune to its attraction, but I am more deeply fascinated by those, like me, who carry dents, chips and scrapes in their lives. 

During moments of retirement, I am taking time to sort things out of a stuffed emotional closet and, like Marie Kondo, wonder if they bring joy to my life.

Some television programs in the 1950s and 1960s provided oases in my early life. Nostalgic, but their plots and models could not stand the weight of life. Portraits of families and married life, a cheerful and wise father who could clear up any challenge between 18 and 20 minutes were as far from my life as the actors' suits, golf shirts, and outfits on the screen.

Other memories, though painful and, at the time, confusing, shaped me

A man and a woman rented a small cottage at the back of our property, a carriage house in modern terminology. One morning, a police car came in the lingering darkness, and I never saw Agne's friendly face again. Mom said the man used to hit her. Dad had "a word" but to no avail.

I can still recall hearing, in the dead of night, the terrible screams of the single man who lived next door. My mother offered the simple phrase, "he was in the war."

The old green MG convertible sat, covered by a musty tarp, in the corner of our yard, waiting for my auto mechanic father to work it into shape. For a young boy crawling in under the wrapper to settle into the cracked leather driver's seat, it was the vehicle of dreams and adventure.

Some pieces I keep because, without them, the final work would incomplete, artificial.

I was not deprived.

I had a good set of clothes for Sunday, and a pair of shoes, other than my runners, to shine Saturday night. And a bike that, on non-school days, carried me as far as I needed to go. The sound of the smelter horn signalled either lunch or supper.

I sometimes quip that my job as a parent was to give my children enough issues to deal with so they could mature. In truth, I would not wish many of the struggles my children experienced when they were young - divorce, blended family, drug addiction, lack of money, among others.

How they have shaped those elements colours different aspects of the Light and reveals the beauty in their lives.

I continue to work to minimize my need for bandaids.

For your journal or conversation

Which aspects of your life continue to bring joy?

Which experiences have most profoundly shaped who you are now?

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