You Are an Alchemist

A friend of mine gave me a book to read several months back. I’ll have to publicly admit right now that I lied to him and told him that I had finished it. In actuality, I never got beyond the first couple of chapters. I was struck so by what those pages contained, that I’ve been cranially digesting them ever since. The book is The Zen Teachings of Jesus.  Now, before you begin to flame me with religious commentary, I should tell you that I’m not going to talk about Jesus or Zen or even Zen teachings–I’m going to talk about Art.

The book spends a fair amount of time discussing Alchemy. For those who are unawares, Alchemy is the fabled science which claims the ability to turn base metals into gold or silver through some magical hoo-doo of sorts; turning the ordinary and mundane into precious and valuable goods.  There are other points to alchemy which I won’t discuss, but you can read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for further information.  What? You don’t typically get your information from young adult fantasy fiction? You should try Wikipedia then, it’s a reputable site.  In other news, there really needs to be a “sarcasm font.”

Back to Art.

Vermeer's original painting, Girl with a Pearl...

Vermeer’s original painting, Girl with a Pearl Earring from 1665 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The book compared Artists to Alchemists. They take the hum-drum and turn it into treasured pieces. They take the earthly and make it holy.

Run-of-the-mill canvas and plain old paint become priceless portraits that are handed down for centuries. Chunks of rock from the filthy ground are chipped, honed, and polished into spectacular sculptures capturing life-sized creatures in mid-motion, as if Medusa had looked at them with her cursed gaze.  Strings and wood, in the gifted hands of a violinist, guitarist, or cellist can move the listener to tap their foot or shed a soulful tear. Vocal cords–which almost everyone can lay claim to–in the skilled throat of a singer can slice your heart open or fill you with a desire to worship the Divine. (should I insert a YouTube clip here of me singing? Nah–that would be too pretentious.)

Or how about the alphabet, y’all? 26 Letters–that’s it. Yet, everything you’ve ever read, sung, or said has been made up of an unlimited combination of those letters! (If you read and speak English, that is. I can’t speak to the number of characters in all the alphabets.) Think about it for a second with me. Shakespeare, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Kurt Cobain, J.R.R. Tolkien, Oscar Wilde, and every other author and songwriter you know only used 26 letters to write that lyric that punches you in the solar plexus. Only 26 letters to create that spellbinding world that carries you away every time you crack the spine of that beloved book. To me friends, that’s the very definition of magic–no, Alchemy.

 

If it is Alchemy to take the ordinary, and make it cherished and treasured–if turning the commonplace into the marvelous is Art, can we do this in our everyday; in and among our routine? I think we all do in a sense. Let me try to articulate this.

Every weekday morning, I drive about 35 minutes to take our children to school. We live in rural Tennessee; surrounded on every side by rolling hills and stunning natural foliage. There’s this one part of the drive that I always look forward to. It’s only a brief glimpse–a flash of light from the camera–yet it feels like my soul lives for hours inside of the moment. When I see that particular view of the hillsides bathed in the first blush of the dawn light and covered in curly morning mists, I feel as if I were flying inside.

It’s just a hill.

It’s just the sunshine.

It’s just the fog.

And yet it is so very much more. (I told you I’d TRY to articulate it, not that I’d do a good job at it.)

Indulge me a little longer as I labor through this Alchemy thing with you. I think there is another way in which we all turn the common place into the extraordinary– through our love. Think about it. Through our acts of love, kindness, good will, affection, tolerance, and compassion, we are able to turn the complete hideousness of life into the most beautiful. Look at Gandhi, Mother Theresa,  Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, and You, (yes, you.). All of these have loved the un-lovable, bathed the broken bones, stared injustice squarely in the face and said, “Not today.”, and given out of their inner wells of love. In the middle of unfairness, war, injustice, hatred, poverty, hunger, and death Humans have the surprising ability to completely change the grossly ugly into the Miraculous Beauty.

You are an Alchemist. Did you know that? You can turn any moment into gold.

Try it.

Go ahead and work your magic.

Hallelujah! It’s Football time!!

English: UT Pride of the Southland Marching Ba...

English: UT Pride of the Southland Marching Band performing the “Salute to the Hill”, a longstanding Tennessee Football tradition, before the 2006 UT vs. California game. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“It’s football time in Tennessee!” my dad announces in a booming sing-song voice as he clicks the remote to the channel broadcasting the Orange and White. I can hear the Pride of the Southland Band playing Rocky Top while thousands of fans sing along drunkenly and the sports commentators talk above it all. We’ve got a pot of chili cooked, cheese and crackers, chips, pretzels, hot-dogs, cookies, and several two liters of carbonated drinks. My father, who incidentally is a pastor, comes the closest to losing his religion every Saturday in the fall. He superstitiously wears a Tennessee tee-shirt or sweat-shirt on every game day, and yells instructions and insults at his beloved team.

 

“The dad-blame quarterback is too afraid of the sack!”

“Yep! There ya go, boys! Snatchin’ defeat from the jaws of victory!”

“OH YEAH! Let’s use the same play that hasn’t worked for the past ten downs!”

“He couldn’t hit a bull in the rear end with a bass-fiddle!”

 

The season has begun.

 

Autumn is my favorite seasonal time, and not just because all the world conspires together to coordinate with my hair color. The fall days are a transition from summer to winter and are, in my mind, the loveliest time of the year when the days begin to shorten, the temperatures begin to cool, the kids go tripping merrily back to school, the supper meals get heartier and more savory, the trees dress in their fiery-colored finery, the air is sweet with a tangy musk, the evening dusk is both orange and purple, and the season of football begins.

 

Here in the South, football is a religion. Stadiums are our temples of worship, fight songs are our hymns, and we work ourselves into a charismatic frenzy shouting for our team (and against the other guys’). I first caught the religious fervor of football while on the high school bleachers. The competitive spirit felt between the Juniors and Seniors at pep rallies suddenly transposed to a family unit feeling at the games. We were all Golden Eagles, and clapped, sang, and cheered as a whole. On cold nights, we’d sit huddled together on those hard ass aluminum bleachers all covered in blankets and coats. We scalded our tongues on steaming hot chocolate sipped from styrofoam cups. We danced when the marching band played “Say Hey!” We yelled for victory as prompted by the homecoming queen and her court (also known as the high school cheerleading squad). Friday night was an Event, with a capital “E,” for us. I have many’a fond memory of those chilly fall nights with the friends of my youth. We felt young, immortal, connected, and happy—despite our scalded tongues.

 

In college, my love affair with football continued through Homecoming weeks full of Greeks competing to claim the top school spirit prize. There were chili cook-offs, step shows, fight song competitions, and the long awaited homecoming parade. To this day, I can never give someone a gift without remembering the floats I covered with zillions of tiny bits of tissue paper. College football games contained all the goodness of high school football along with the added benefits of liquor and no parents. The marching band was filled with music-major friends of mine who would sneak booze into their instrument cases, and we’d enjoy a bit of our own school “spirit.” I know I had a blast at those games—I just can’t remember most of them. Currently, I’m trying to host a big reunion tail-gate party for our school’s Homecoming this October. I’m hoping to remember this game—even if I don’t understand it.

 

You see, while I adore everything that is football season, I don’t rightly understand the actual game. Don’t bother trying to teach it to me in the comments—I’m afraid I’m a lost cause. All I know is there’s this yellow line, and the team’s gotta cross it with the ball. If they do, you sing the fight song. If the big, ole sweaty players make it to the other team’s end-zone, that’s a touch down, and you sing the fight song again. That is the sum-total of my football knowledge. I can sing a kicking fight-song.

 

I think I actually avoid learning the rules of the game, for fear of it spoiling my enjoyment of the event itself. I’m already ignoring how football perpetuates gender stereotypes—what with the bulky and aggressive male heros, and the scantily-clad and leggy cheerleaders. I knowingly turn a blind-eye toward this (and even signed my daughter up for cheerleading) because I am in love with football! Don’t ask me any player’s name or team name for that matter. Don’t ask me about any stats or Heisman candidates. Don’t ask me whether that was holding or a face-mask. Don’t ask me about conferences and leagues. I can’t tell you anything about the game I claim to love. Your best bet is to just ask me what the menu is for the tailgate, and the lyrics to the fight-song. Oh, and here’s a spare pom-pom.

“Let’s Go, Boys!”