The following posts are going to be a summary of the recent trip Susie and I took to Boston for our anniversary. I would have done this in real time, but the wireless connection in the hotel was kinda slow and more importantly, I was dog tired because in typical McKenna fashion, we squeezed every ounce of the city we were visiting into our allotted time. This is not meant to be an exact description of everything that we did, but rather a reflection on what struck me most during the day.
In my world, there are probably no two more fascinating topics than the Revolutionary War period of American history and Greek mythology. If I could some how manage to be a History and Classics professor by day and pediatrician by night, that would probably be my ideal job. Kind of like Indiana Jones, only infinitely more nerdy. Well, wouldn’t you know that our first day in Boston had our fill of both.
One of the best parts of Boston is that it is a very old city (by American standards) and was center stage during the Revolutionary War. You get to see so many historical markers and places where our Founding Fathers walked, lived, fought and died as well as a number of relics and artifacts from the birth of our great nation.
We started our trip by heading out to the Boston Common, where there is an eclectic mixture of statues and landmarks. While Boston tends to identify its heroes more as Sam Adams, John Hancock and Paul Revere (and rightfully so), they were also kind enough to have a nice statue of my historical hero and probably the greatest American in the history of our nation, George Washington.
The Museum of Fine Art also had a few pieces of art dedicated to our first President,
including a classic picture that you might recognize from a certain piece of currency.
There were a lot more fascinating pieces of art in the museum, but none more intriguing than that of Charles Stuart, the Sixth Marquess of Londonderry, or as Susie and I liked to refer to him, Man With Sword.
Naturally, I found him so fascinating that I had to try to recreate him in all of his regal glory. Somehow, I don’t think I exactly captured his full glory.
Maybe I just needed a bigger fork. Or a well-coiffed page. Clearly my outfit was superior to his in both comfort and style.
I was also impressed by much of the classical art that was a part of the museums collection, both paintings and statuary. One of the first pieces that you see when you walk through the door is this statue of Orpheus slipping past a sleeping Cerberus and heading into the Underworld.
The story of Orpheus and his wife, Eurydice, is one of my favorites in Greek mythology and for some reason seemed particularly poignant on this day. Orpheus was known for his ability to charm all things, both living and non-living, with the beauty and power of the divine music that he would play on his lyre.
On the day of his wedding to Eurydice, she was chased by a lustful satyr and fell into a pit of vipers where she was fatally bitten. Orpheus was so struck with grief that he played the most moving and sorrowful music ever heard. So much so that various deities convinced him to go down to the Underworld and try to convince Hades to let Eurydice go and return to the world of the living. So down Orpheus went, armed with only his lyre (charming the three-headed dog Cerberus that guarded the entrance to the Underworld, as captured in the statue above) and the sorrow in his heart. When he is presented before Hades, he plays his song and he convinces Hades to release his beloved Eurydice, but with one condition. Orpheus must go on ahead of her back to the realm of the living and not look back upon her until they are both out of the Underworld. And so up they both go, but as they walk back, Orpheus’ faith begins to falter. Is she really behind him? Has Hades just played a mean trick on him? Orpheus begins to become desperate to look back upon his love, but knows he must not. But as he sees the light of the world above slowly growing brighter, his burden becomes unbearable. But he knows he must not take even the slightest glimpse, lest Eurydice be lost forever. As he begins to suffocate from the pressure, he reaches his destination. He can no longer stand it, so he looks back hoping to finally lay his eyes upon his love, Eurydice. Only he immediately realizes his mistake and will forever regret his lack of faith. For Eurydice was a few steps behind him and has not yet left the Underworld, breaking Hades’ stipulation that both Orpheus and Eurydice be in the realm of the living before he turns back to gaze at his love. As he looks back he feels the joy of finally seeing the face of his beloved, but also the despair of watching her get whisked back to the Underworld.
I think about that story and that feeling often. The utter joy and pain, exquisitely contradicting each other in that one fleeting moment. I think about that time of transition from joy to pain in that moment and how it is present often in our lives. How in that moment, even though the pain hasn’t hit you yet, you can see its inevitability coming. Something as simple as a putt on the golf course that you have struck. It hasn’t missed its mark yet, but you can plainly see that it is off-course. Turning in an important assignment and realizing as you are doing it that you have made a mistake in it, only it is too late to turn back now. That moment between seeing the police officer on the side of the road and when she actually turns on her lights and siren and starts coming after you.
More importantly, I think about faith. Religious faith, faith in marriage, faith in your friends and family, faith in the righteousness of your cause. How sometimes, faith seems so easy. When you see that portrait of George Washington looking across the Delaware River about to attack the British forces, you can see the confidence and faith in himself and his cause. From our point in history, this moment is inevitable and having faith seems so easy. But at the time, American victory was nowhere near a certainty and I am sure that General Washington and the other Founding Fathers had many nights where there faith was shaken.
The same is true for all of us. Some times faith is easy to come by. At other times, the pressure of doubt makes your feel like you are drowning. But whether the light ahead is the brightest ray of sunshine or the tiniest pinpoint, never succumb to Orpheus’ doubt. All of us are at different points in our journey, but none of us are ever alone. Whether one admits it or not, we all have struggles. Have the faith to help and be helped. And once you are fully in the sunshine, make sure to celebrate with someone you love.