Hope and Despair (and Géricault) in 2012
By LIZ HAGER
© Liz Hager, 2012. All Rights Reserved.
Jean-Louis André Théodore Géricault, The Raft of the Medusa, 1819
Oil on canvas, approximately 16 x 23.5 feet
Over most of my adult life, I have habitually devoted sizable chunks of time at year’s end compiling a well-reasoned list of New Year’s resolutions. The best intentions were poured into these annual exercises. Not surprisingly, however, very little ever came of my earnestly-wrought declarations. Invariably, by mid-to-late January I had put most resolutions quietly aside. In February, the lists themselves had become loathsome to me, glaring signposts on the pathway to personal defeat.
This year I finally resisted the urge to make a list. Perhaps not so coincidentally, on New Year’s Eve, in a last ditch effort at helpful guidance, a friend suggested he read the Tarot for me. Three cards pulled from his Buddhist-inspired deck provided an elegant composite answer to my burning question: “What should I focus on this year?” In order, they were:
We flail about during our blip of a physical lifetime. Julian Barnes forcefully captured the emotions that shape our existence in his fictional treatment of Théodore Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa (from A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters)
All that straining—to what end? There is no formal response to the painting’s main surge, just as there is no response to most human feelings. Not merely hope, but any burdensome yearning: ambition, hatred, love (especially love)—how rarely do our emotions meet the object they seem to deserve? How hopelessly we signal; how dark the sky; how big the waves. We are all lost at sea, washed between hope and despair, hailing something that may never come to rescue us.
In point of fact, M. Géricault, the real Medusa castaways were, at long last, rescued. Fittingly, my Tarot reading suggests hope in the face of existential despair. Snippets include:
We have forgotten how to wait; it is almost an abandoned space. And it is our greatest treasure to be able to wait for the right moment. This card reminds us that now is a time when all that is required is to be simply alert, patient, waiting. . . The poolside resort is not your final destination. The journey isn’t over yet. Your complacency might have arisen from a real sense of achievement, but now it’s time to move on. No matter how fuzzy the slippers, how tasty the piña colada, there are skies upon skies still waiting to be explored. . . There are times in our lives when too many voices seem to be pulling us this way and that. Our very confusion in such situations is a reminder to seek silence and centering within. Only then are we able to hear our truth.
My takeaway for 2012: The seas of life may toss me, but all there is to do is wait patiently, on alert, for the arrival of my next Argus. My life raft is beneath me.