The painting from the garbage

By Phil Grech |

I have a painting hanging up in my bedroom that I found in the trash about ten years ago. People are always surprised to hear that when I tell them because it’s a great painting. Why anyone would have wanted to trash this thing is beyond me. It’s a nice painting and it beats decorating your house with the same Target prints and black light posters your friends have.

The painting is about 2 feet wide and 2 1/2 feet tall. The setting looks to be somewhere in Mexico. In the foreground is a water fountain, with crystal clear water flowing through. In the background is a grand, eloquent staircase with buildings and palm trees on both sides and a palace partially hidden from view by a wall.

It’s a nice painting, but I always wondered, “What’s the point of this thing?” Some buildings, a staircase, a wall; I get it, but who cares?

That was until about six months ago. I noticed an entirely new element while I lay on my bed staring at it. The new element was not a new way of looking at the painting, but a physical element I had not previously seen.

After ten years of this painting hanging up on my wall, I finally noticed a couple facing each other at the bottom of the staircase. The man’s hands embrace his lover’s while their heads are down in contemplation, serenity, patience and appreciation. No one else is around. They are the only people in attendance in this wide open expanse. They have the whole city to themselves.

How had I missed this for an entire decade?

The painting now has meaning. The painting has a message. Now I get it. In silence, they embrace each other. In silence, they comfort one another. In silence, they give me hope.

I’m not a fan of self-comforting quotations that get forgotten about just as quickly as they become our Facebook statuses. Murmuring “carpe diem” to myself as I struggle out of bed with a hangover has never helped me with anything. The goal in life is truth, not self-comfort, so accepting a particular faith or faulty foundation to provide myself with hope never works.

It is odd then, that I look at this painting and feel hope. The meaning is beyond the aesthetic quality of the painting. I don’t know who the artist is or the meaning he or she intended to convey with it. I only know the meaning I perceive and extract from it. This painting’s fate is a reflection of the human condition.

You are human. You get lonely. It happens. Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, but the human condition is inescapable. We will never live pain free. If today you are pain free, just wait for tomorrow. Loneliness is just one of the many aspects of being an intellectual being, so I’ve been there.

I know that pain: Those crushing nights of loneliness and despair where no one can provide you meaning, identity and purpose except for yourself; those torturous evenings when you expect those crushing nights. The loneliness can consume you if you let it. And I’ve been there. I’ve been consumed. I’ve been consumed, spit out and consumed again. If this painting had a brain, if it had feelings, then surely it sat outside the night before trash pick-up, thinking this was it. Then someone came by, picked it up and cherished it for years to come.

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