The other day we drove to Glenstone, an art museum located in Potomac on several hundred acres of beautiful land. As close as we were to busy Washington D.C., an overwhelming sense of peace enveloped us as soon as we parked the car and walked to the welcoming center. From there, maps in hand, we followed a winding path through the lush landscape. The day was cloudy. Ahead of us, blending with the surroundings, stood the modern, straight-angled, gray stone exhibition hall, where most of the art is displayed. A crystal clear pond with blooming water lilies was visible through oversized windows from many of the rooms inside the pavilion. Everything was perfect: the silent, massive doors, the stairway, the walls and the paintings, installations and sculptures, as were the knowledgeable attendants dressed in unassuming grey uniforms matching the color of the building. The windows, floor to ceiling and wall-to-wall, were immaculate, as if they weren’t there. Not a smudge on that glass, not a scratch or an impurity.
My wife and I were accompanied by our close friends, Michael and Debbie. Taking our time, we breathed deeply and almost floated from room to room. Jackson Pollock, Rothko, the Japanese artists, the Brazilians, Andy Warhol, Hammons’ blue-eyed Jessie Jackson surrounded by sledgehammers. Charles Ray, Cy Twombly. The date paintings of the Moon Landing by On Karawa. Each piece of art thoughtfully showcased and accessible. There were no crowds, the number of daily visitors deliberately kept to fewer than four hundred. From a hallway, we opened a door to an outside wooden patio overlooking the pond, sat on a bench and admired nature. One group of school children walked by, then some other people. Wasps had built their nest underneath the boards and we watched them fly out onto the pond and return and disappear through the spaces between the slats. They did their thing and we did ours. Nobody bothered anybody.
Our friends had just returned from a long and interesting car trip through Maine, Vermont and Nova Scotia. They told us about their trip and showed us pictures. We told them about our children and grandchildren in Denver and San Diego. We talked about the art we were seeing, about this amazing place and about what it must feel to be the billionaire who can spend his fortune to create this art museum and its surroundings for the enjoyment of the general public. How generous of him and how beautiful!
We had reserved our free passes three months in advance. For me, this ended up being an adventure of sorts. At the end of July, I had started experiencing pain in my right ankle. At first I ignored it, but, at the end of August, my doctor diagnosed me with posterior tibial tendonitis, gave me a steroid pack to take and an orthopedic boot to wear. Forget walking. Forget tennis. The boot is large, ugly and obtrusive. Walking in it is like stepping through knee-deep water. Its rigid side presses on my malleolus. The top squeezes my gastrocnemius. During the visit, which lasted a good five hours if I don’t take into account the lunch break, I had to wear the boot. I proudly took it as proof of my unwavering dedication to art and beauty.
While we sat on the bench admiring the lily pond, I complained to my friends about my ankle. I had to. It was now a part of my psyche, the way falling in love had been in my heart when I was a teenager. It started with the boot and we ended up exchanging highly specific notes about our cardiologists, urologists, ophthalmologists, dentists, oncologists and orthopedists, and about pain medicine in general. As they say, you know that you’re getting old when you have more doctors than friends in your contacts. I remember my elderly parents and their friends talking about their health issues, while I was feeling young and chipper. ‘Why don’t they talk about something else?’ I wondered at the time. ‘There is so much to life, literature, travel, politics. No, they have to whine about this or that part of their body.’ I didn’t get it, my wife didn’t get it, and we regarded our aging parents with loving condescendence that made us feel generous and accepting. Well, my parents are gone and it is my turn now.
As we sat peacefully watching the wasps and the lilies we understood: health is the most important commodity, think of the alternative, if you wake up and nothing hurts in the morning it means you are dead, old age is not for sissies. And we seem to talk about it incessantly.
You know what else we talked about? Impeachment. How sad it is, how devastating! If so far, in two and a half years, this administration has not achieved anything except for a tax break for the upper echelons, which has added a trillion to the national debt, and a bunch of reversals of the Obama pollution control measures, which are now stalled in the courts, with the impeachment process underway, nothing will be done for another year. Again, how devastating! So, why do I feel so good? There is that German word, schadenfreude, which means ‘the pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune’, except that with impeachment, it will not be just ‘the other person’ paying the price, but the entire country. And what the heck did Biden’s son seek in Ukraine? Couldn’t he get a job elsewhere?
We ate lunch in a simple and comfortable café, outfitted with long communal tables decorated with wildflowers and slim pitchers of water. The four of us sat at an end, near a floor to ceiling glass wall facing the woods, and we continued our conversation. The truth is we never get bored when we are together, regardless of the subject matter. That day was our forty-fifth wedding anniversary. Where did the time go, we wondered. We toasted with water and gobbled down our healthy food choices — everything in moderation. Michael grabbed the check. ‘You don’t think I’d let you pay for lunch on your anniversary.’
There is a room like no other in the pavilion. No manmade art is displayed and no attendants stand by the door. The silence is inviting, total. A large glass wall opens towards the meadow and the hills. In front of it, a long and curvy wooden bench is placed like a suggestion. The window is the art. Its subject: nature. The view is always the same and always changing. We see the color of the sky, the wind on the tall grasses like ripples on water, the plants, the wild flowers, the butterflies, the insects, the trees up on the knoll. We see the light of day go by. The seasons. What is there today will no longer be there tomorrow. Nature — this perfect tableau, rejuvenating.
And us in front of it: exchanging thoughts, concerns, becoming wiser, as permanent, as ephemeral.
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