Unbreakable Self

The Nature of David

Posted in Character, Daily, Wisdom by Ahmed on June 11, 2010

This comes from the Social Man blog, a great piece on the understanding of human nature through the work of Michelangelo. Enjoy, Godspeed 🙂

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It was on one brilliantly perfect afternoon in mid-July that Michaelangelo found himself sitting in a courtyard in Rome, enjoying the sun in the sky, the crunch of pebbles beneath the feet of passersby, and the breezy summer air. Eventually, he became lost in his thoughts. He’d just completed his work on the Sistine Chapel – truly a testament to God’s greatness – and he felt at a loss for how he may next share his gifts with the world.

So wrapped up was he in his own mind, it was not until the sun began to set that he came to notice the massive slab of marble that had miraculously appeared only twenty feet away, in the enter of the courtyard. He looked around furtively; some strange guilt had visited upon him, as if this gift was to be neither trusted nor accepted. But the passersby continued on their way and around the slab with nothing more than a sidelong glance.

This struck him – “how strange that these people – going about their days and on their merry ways – would pay so little heed to such an anomaly.” And yet the paradox struck him, and he understood the purpose of this marble. He would create something perfectly human, yet divinely inspired. The best that man could be, despite his flaws. A sculpture so well-realized that it would inspire all those who would be exposed to it.

The next day, Michaelangelo erected a scaffolding around the marble, and set to work. Over the first few months, progress was slow. It took patience and time for the general shape to begin to form, and Michaelangelo was not without his doubts. The final vision of what this would become was still unclear, and this work came at the expense of other, more profitable projects. Several dukes had contacted him, offering handsome commissions for murals and paintings. And while those offers nagged him, he couldn’t help but go with the feeling in his heart that this was the right work to be doing at the right time.

After considerable time, a definite human shape began to form, and the crowds began to take notice. Strangely, this bothered Michaelangelo; this work was meant to be between he and his God, and while he knew the crowds would eventually come, he somehow wasn’t prepared for it when it happened.

There were all sorts. As the head and the face of the sculpture took shape, a group of Spaniards appeared who sought wisdom. They asked Michaelangelo for permission to look into the eyes of this sculpture, and as they did so, they solicited it with questions about the nature of the world. One asked how his trading goods company could expand it’s territories. Another wondered about how to better teach her students. A third asked how he could channel his creative energies into something of value to others. Michaelangelo was pleased that in the eyes of his work, each wisdom seeker found an answer that helped him or her grow.

Word of this sculpture began to spread further, and soon more and more people were coming to see it. Michaelangelo had now begun to work on the torso – strong and proud – and a group of healers from Persia appeared. They put their hands on the heart of this sculpture, and looked for the answers to their questions thereupon. “How much is too much to give?” asked one. Another asked for the strength to be a more consistent and committed healer, despite the wrongs incurred upon her in the past. A third asked for assistance in connecting the heart and the soul in his own healing efforts. And these answers were less clear than those that the wisdom seekers had found, for matters of the heart always are. But the healers took faith in the emergent strength and beauty of this sculpture, and Michaelangelo was inspired to continue with his work.

It was not long before word of the sculpture had reached far and distant lands. And as Michaelangelo began work on the pelvis, a group of hedonists appeared from the Orient. Admiring, then touching the beautiful reproductive organs with which the sculpture had been gifted, they made their requests. One asked how he could better please his lover, penetrating her more deeply in heart, body and soul. Another asked how to responsibly satiate her cravings and desires. A third took a photo in front of it, flashing a peace sign with one hand and rubbing it for good luck with the other. Slightly annoyed, but ultimately amused, Michaelangelo knew that his work was beginning to touch people on many different levels.

However, trouble was soon visited upon this great work. A group of vandals approached it one night, attempting to sabotage it. Michaelangelo was just around the corner at the time, cleaning his chisels in the river, and fortunately, chased them off before they could do it significant damage. But this incident cast him into a spiral of doubt. Other works of his had been vandalized and even destroyed in the past – twice by the men who’d commissioned them to be
made. And Michaelangelo was a person who put all of his heart into his work; while he felt it right to continue, he was so wracked with doubt that he hired a security detail for the unfinished piece, erected a wall around it, and went on hiatus.

He thought long and hard about this work. It was not his first sculpture, and he was still unclear if it would be his last. And now on holiday, he realized that the incident with the vandals had upset him more than he had even initially been able to accept. He considered that this sculpture was perhaps not even the right project; maybe he should reconnect with the dukes who were seeking to commission him.

Or perhaps he should merely return and finish one part of the sculpture; if he scaled back his own expectations for what this could be, perhaps others would stop placing such significance on it as well. Unclear and leaving it up to God’s will, he realized that the nature of this sculpture and it’s significance would only reveal themselves if he allowed himself to be open to any possibilities – from destruction to perfection.

And he realized that as the project had evolved, his own efforts had inexorably led to what it had become. It had begun to touch the lives of many people in wonderful ways, and try as he might to escape the responsibility he now faced, he knew that to fight the direction this had taken would be a disservice to everything it could be. Uncertain in his direction, but certain in Divine guidance, Michaelangelo put the outcome in the hands of a Higher Being.

When he returned to the site of the sculpture, he was at first shocked, then alarmed, to find the chaos surrounding it. Three camps had been set up – one of wisdom seekers, one of healers, and one of hedonists – and they were each making a claim on the nature of the work.

The wisdom seekers had learned so much from the sculpture, and thought it to be an oracle of sorts. They petitioned Michaelangelo to finish his work on the head, and to release it to them that they may use it exclusively for matters of knowledge and learning.

The healers had their own opinion. They beseeched Michaelangelo to complete his work on the torso, that they could use it as a sort of storehouse for all of the wrongs of the world that they had extracted from those they healed.

And the hedonists urged Michaelangelo to complete his work on the pelvis. They had grand aspirations of casting it as a mold – both in it’s complete form, and as it’s symmetric reciprocal – that would be revered and fantasized about within their clan.

For weeks, the artist found himself vacillating between the groups. The wisdom seekers had used what they’d learned from the work for good purposes, and he could not deny that their intended use would be for the betterment of mankind. The healers, though, also had good petition. Michaelangelo recognized that many in the world were damaged, and the healers had made it a mission to take on their pain. As for the hedonists, Michaelangelo could not deny that their claims arose from a genuine, and beautiful, humanistic desire – perhaps the most easily corrupted desire, but also the most sublimely deep and profound desire when expressed with a pure heart.

After weeks of hearing their petitions, Michaelangelo cast the applicants out of the courtyard and set to finish what he had started. And as it continued to evolve, he was not without his doubts. The work itself came naturally – almost too naturally – and the details of the sculpture emerged as if guided by providence. But from time to time, the petitioners returned, asking him to cast his efforts in one particular area. And from time to time, attempts were made to vandalize the piece, and Michaelangelo was struck with memories of works past, and how devastated he would be if the piece were destroyed – not only out of despair for himself, but also for the countless people who were counting on him and his work to provide a bit more happiness in their own lives.

This project, though, now had a momentum of it’s own, and was carried forward as a if a skiff on the Tiber. As the artist cast his doubt aside, and allowed his hands and his heart to guide his efforts, the sculpture grew into something more and more beautiful with every passing day.

And one fine evening, as the sun cast it’s last rays over Rome’s hills and valleys, Michaelangelo chiseled the final detail out of the sculpture’s left baby toe. A bit large for a baby toe – in fact, the hands and the feet were both disproportionately large – but despite these minor imperfections, the work was as perfect as a sculpture could be.

During these last few months of construction, Michaelangelo had kept everyone out of the courtyard. So it was with great anticipation from the crowd, and great trepidation from the artist, that a date was revealed for a public unveiling. It was determined that the statue would be revealed for the first time in Florence, a quaint, classically European town to the north of Italy’s capital.

The statue was boxed, and the throng of followers journeyed along with it for many miles, through a countryside that was just beginning to wane with the onset of fall. Along their journey, members of the various camps began to learn of each other. They began to realize that the thing that brought them all together was all of their’s to share. And by the time they had reached their destination, there was general agreement that amongst the wisdom seekers, the healers, and the hedonists, there was no higher value or virtue – only different expressions of man’s desires and capabilities.

Michaelangelo had picked the time of 7 pm for his public revealing. The early fall sun would be orange in the sky, casting it’s saturated rays on his masterpiece. As the crowd gathered in the courtyard of the Ufizzi, buzzing with anticipation, and late afternoon became early evening, a strange thing happened…

Silence. With a quarter hour to seven, as if commanded by some force beyond, a tranquility settled over the crowd. So in awe of this moment was the crowd – a crowd which had followed this sculpture since it’s genesis, which had influenced it’s direction, but which had ultimately been forced to abscond it’s will to the Creator of the statue – that a sort of communion was visited upon them. In this moment, a common humanity was felt, unlike anything the crowd’s members had ever experienced before.

A woman began to quietly cry. She so wanted to believe in the authenticity of this moment, but doubt and apprehension spoke to her. What if this thing that she’d been following for so long was fraudulent? What if it failed to live up to her expectations? And what if this moment of peace, a moment gifted with the anticipation of the revealing, was not to last? If only she’d known that at that very moment, the artist was alone in his private quarters, experiencing the same thoughts and emotions. As he prayed for comfort with his Neighbor, this woman’s neighbor reached out to her to hold her hand.

Seven minutes before the hour, Michaelangelo emerged into the crowd, and the silence became chaos. The crowd erupted into cheers, for here was the man who would reveal to them, in art, the nature of their own humanity. As he took to the stage where the statue was covered, and waiting, he cleared his throat and silently asked for guidance. Then he spoke.

“Ladies and gentlemen… I come before you today not of my own accord, but of a force much greater than I. What began as an inspired moment has become something which has given more meaning to all of our lives… to find common ground and a common sense of who we are. And what began with uncertainty continues with uncertainty; one of a different variety, but uncertainty nonetheless. We all have our expectations for what this can be for each of us, but until we experience it and come to live with it, we are only united in our hope and in our doubt.”

A woman yelled from the crowd. “Michaelangelo – please assuage my concerns! Have you given adequate attention to the statue’s head?! In those eyes I have found much wisdom, and in my future I hope to find more!”

Michaelangelo looked at the woman – a good and honest woman, with wide eyes that revealed a deep well of intelligence – and answered her. “Ma’am, I have done my very best to gift this sculpture with eyes that will reflect back to you all the answers you seek. But look not to this sculpture alone, for the eyes I have given it are merely the most accurate representation I could provide of the honesty and truth that flows through our world.”

A man then raised his voice. “Michaelangelo – I cannot stand the wait! How is the torso of this sculpture? Does it reflect a heart that is strong and courageous?”

The artist considered this man, with his strong physique and tender presence, and responded. “Sir, in this man’s torso, I have endeavored to capture the pride of a man who has taken on the weight of the world, and the humility of one who is inspired by his heart and his genuine love for mankind.”

And a third voice emerged from the crowd, a woman’s again. “Michaelangelo, you must not delay, but tell me if this sculpture will arouse passion and excitement in it’s representation of man’s most private, but precious, physical form.”

Michaelangelo regarded this woman, held securely in the arms of a man who smiled warmly down upon her, and replied. “My dear, I could do no injustice to that which provides us with so much pleasure here on earth, and which allows for our continued growth – as couples, and as a species.”

With these words, the town bells began to ring, and seven o’clock was upon the crowd.

Summoning all the confidence with which the moment had to offer, the artist grasped the linens which covered the statue, and drew hard. “Ladies and gentleman, I give to you, our David.”

At just that moment, the setting sun dipped below the crown of the statue’s head; an eclipse… a halo? The crowd would never know. Silence, again.

After seconds that seemed like hours, a woman’s voice emerged from the stillness. “His eyes are so sad, yet so attentive… Michaelangelo, you have captured the wisdom of one who truly knows of the world and of mankind! It is perfect!”

A man’s voice followed. “His chest is so broad, yet poised so humbly… Michaelangelo, you have captured the heart of a man who truly gives and receives love with every breath! It is perfect!”

A woman’s voice followed. “His pelvis is so well erected, but not perverse… Michaelangelo, you have truly captured the form of a man who penetrates the world with his very essence! It is perfect!”

“Yes, I have done all those things,” responded the artist, finally allowing himself to once again take in deep breaths. “But the nature of this man – of this thing we have created together and with help from the Above – is much more than any of that.”

“Were any one of these pieces left out, or were any one of these pieces given undue favor, it would be a disservice to the nature of what we have. And as my work evolved, and as I considered your petitions, I realized that for this work to appropriately represent the true nature of David… ‘beloved’ in Scripture… to represent the soul’s form in flesh or in marble… I was not to stand between or selectively accept or reject any of the three elements, and their purpose in this creation.”

“And yes, they evolved in phases; the head came before the heart, which came before the pelvis. And there were many false starts, and doubts that I had along the way. But it is complete, and the perfection that you see is born of the whole… of the soul of the piece… given life by the completeness of it’s humanity. Yet I humbly submit to you that this work is not perfect.”

A gasp went up among the crowd.

“You must understand… the imperfection of this work… man’s flesh and soul in marble… lies in it’s nature; it is our own experiences that make it perfect. To me, this work is as imperfect as a child’s first pottery piece… a piece whose perfection will only be realized in the eyes of his adoring parents. It is as imperfect as the clumsy sonnets of a teenager in love, verses whose perfection will only be felt by his innocent beloved. Our creations are as imperfect as our abilities to create. And with these hands I have, I could do no less than to give you this, David. And I could give you no more.”

“But I do pray that you will consider this thing we’ve created together, and accept it for the entirety of what it is. I pray that we can enjoy what little wisdom it can provide for us, what little strength it can be for us, and what little pleasures it can give us, while our little hearts still beat.”

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