Ever since I first fell in love with Robert Heinlein’s ‘Stranger in a Strange Land,’ I’ve been drawn to Rodin’s “The Fallen Caryatid.” As Jubal Harshaw, a wisdom teacher in Heinlein’s constructed world says of another of the Master’s sculptures,
An artist can look at a pretty girl and see the old woman she will become. A better artist can look at an old woman and see the pretty girl that she used to be. But a great artist — a master — and that is what Auguste Rodin was — can look at an old woman, portray her exactly as she is… and force the viewer to see the pretty girl she used to be…. and more than that, he can make anyone with the sensitivity of an armadillo, or even you, see that this lovely young girl is still alive, not old and ugly at all, but simply prisoned inside her ruined body. He can make you feel the quiet, endless tragedy that there was never a girl born who ever grew older than eighteen in her heart…. no matter what the merciless hours have done to her.
I let this in, as have many, the second I read it. Heinlin/Harshaw’s admonition to see the beauty beneath the wear and tear of time speaks profoundly to my sense of God’s Image in us all, especially our elders.
I shared the above quote with my precious daughter as we stood before the Caryatid, waiting for her wise eyes to reflect the truth of the quote. She read it, paused, and blinked.
But Abbah, isn’t that suggesting that beauty is only about being young? I’m not sure about that.”
Here I stand, having once or twice felt like the Caryatid, having many times cried at Harshaw’s eloquent empathy for her plight, and now offering its multilevel lesson to my unfallen child, whose heart speaks of another way, another artful life path. If I might be so bold, if Harshaw had witnessed this new interchange, he might say,
“An artist is many things. Good artists and better artists feel and interpret everything, even time. But the Greatest One, the Artist Beyond Time, is beyond any and lives in every form.
There lives cosmic beauty in every earned wrinkle. Life itself is a work of Art.
Thank you, my daughter.