To Be or To Do

Posted: 7 years ago | By: Christine Somers | In: Life Management | Read Time: 3 minutes, 30 seconds

{ James Hunter Black Draftee }

A new internal dialogue has emerged as I become increasingly aware of the finite nature of time. Money, shoes, and books are like Doritos, when needed, we just make more. But time appears to be the only resource that is specific and determined and therefore our most valuable gift. Over the course of my life, my time has been dedicated to everything thing from going to school, to raising my children, to working and now, to writing. In a nutshell, I have spent my life doing. I have accomplished many personal and professional goals that have given my life purpose and pleasure. 

Increasingly though, I find that I linger in the moment to just "be". In the early morning as the sun comes up, I sit drinking a cup of tea as I watch the light creep down the side of the mountain, changing in color from a cool blue to a warm yellow. If I am not careful, Gary the Gardener will take up my time as I watch him race from one end of the fence to the other reveling in the warmer days of spring. A little voice whispers that I need to be doing something, anything but wasting my time contemplating the subtle changes of the morning light or laughing at the frolicking of a North American Grey Squirrel. 

The tension between doing and being came into greater conflict after the death of my mother. I felt the need to organize family photos and write a narrative on my parents and grandparents but my energy level was drained after years of caring for my mother. Now a sense of urgency and a tad bit of guilt sets in each time I remember the boxes of photos that still need to be scanned or the half completed family history. To make matters worse I have my own projects that have lain dormant longer that I would care to confess. I moved the half completed embroidery project to the TV room so that it would be easy to continue work while listening to the Yankees baseball but sadly to no avail. 

Currently at The Metropolitan Museum of Art is the exhibit UNFINISHED THOUGHTS LEFT VISIBLE. The curators of the exhibit are addressing the question, "When is a work of art finished?" This exhibit is one of the best if not the best exhibit I've ever experienced in a museum. The work covers the "grand sweep" of time with pieces from every period and shows not only the technics behind the work created but also the thinking. I asked the question, "Why wasn't it finished?" In the case of Alice Neel's painting, James Hunter Black Draftee, the young man went off to the Viet Nam War and never returned to finish the painting. Did he not return from the war or did he just not return to sit for Alice? I personally love the look of what is considered an unfinished painting. 

Why did Rembrandt, da Vinci, Picasso, Turner, El Greco, and Degas leave work incomplete? Did Turner get bored with his subject? (Did it make him feel guilty every time he walked passed it?) Did Rembrandt receive another commission and simply put aside the incomplete painting, never to find time to once again resume work? Did Picasso have more ideas than could be completed in his lifetime? Or was it something else? Did one or all of these painters want to take some time to be instead of do? Instead of painting one morning, did they take time to watch the sunrise? On a sunny afternoon did they sit in the town square and drink a glass of wine and people watch? 

I am not in the midst some existential crisis, nor am I questioning the meaning or purpose of pursuing a life of accomplishment. I am asking if there is value in incorporating moments of being into a life of doing? What do you think?


PS: The exhibit is at the MET Breuer and runs through September 4, 2016. If you are anywhere near New York City, I encourage you to make time and go.