Mental Health & Counseling

Surface Interest

September 23, 2021

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”

Kahlil Gabril

In the near distance the lighthouse stands, red and white against the sky, like a soldier in eternal poise, standing at attention, awaiting orders. The beacon is just beginning to flash, concentric, but the sky is too bright yet for sailors to see the guiding light. The sky is also at attention, respectful, somber, holding up the glowing, lambent sun as it lowers itself slowly down to the blood red line spreading across the horizon. Off in the distance, strangely, the spires of Chicago can be seen, a mirage perhaps, not something you usually see from this distance across Lake Michigan.


The sky is not clear tonight. Clouds of a million different sizes and shapes create a panorama of variegated interest. Clear skies do herald lovely sunsets, but introduce a rodeo of clouds onto this living, vibrant canvas and suddenly the sky comes alive; soaring cirrus clouds turning light pink overhead, while north of Chicago cumulonimbus billow high, like hair piled on a model’s head, rising toward the ether, towering miles straight up. Other clouds, cirrocumulus, altocumulus, spreading like donkey tails and blood red feathers, high, static, still; at lower altitudes a riot of cotton balls riff across the sky, like little clowns at a circus, not the main act but adding continual interest and delight, turning purples and reds and pinks and yellows, changing, moving, spreading back and forth. The sun wraps them to himself, like a glorious eternal king, bestowing his glory as he closes the day…

The potter in his studio eyes the pots with critical contemplation. He sees the simple forms, curvaceous, sensuous, technically fine. However, his eye crosses over them, unimpeded by anything that arrests. We need surface interest he says to himself and goes in search of others pots, those with marks, with drips, with variegated surfaces, something to arrest the eye, something to hold the attention of the beholder, something to make them stop and think.

He sits down at the wheel, takes the clay and his tools and scribes the marks, pushes the form in here, a little out there, a cut, a filigree, etchings, placing trivets and little islands of slip across the surface. He manipulates the glazes, overlapping, overlaying, anything to stop the eyes and make one consider difference, and beauty, and the alteration of form. Always endeavoring to create the unusual to make one stop and consider. 


The sun continues its downward slope, the clouds continue to change and move, the colors deepen and become more breathtaking with every passing moment. Chicago begins to fade into the redness of the sunset, while a strange spiral of clouds, like twin trails from a aerobatic airshow plane, dance across the city skyline, moving from south to north.

The old man walks slowly down the hallway, heading to lunch, to be with friends, lost for a second as he tries to remember which way to turn to find the dining room. You stop and he breaks into a smile and reaches out a gnarled hand for you to shake. His eyes are rheumy and red, he limps and his walker carries cookies and snacks for himself and any visiting dogs that he may chance upon. His eyes cannot see so well anymore but his mind is sharp, at least for today. As you stop to visit and he begins to reminisce, the past as fresh as yesterday, his exploits and adventures still alive, still there, still a joy, still a pain, still a sorrow. He tells of hurts, scars, family issues that come and go, disappointments, grief. He is no longer just another “old person,” another “nursing home resident,” but an interesting human being, full of wisdom, and experience and surface interest.  

You shake his hand again and he limps on, his red walker tracking ahead of him, with those green fall prevention foamies on the handle, as he tacks left and right, searching for coffee and snicker bars. You love him as he goes.

The sun is on the horizon now, blood red, the lighthouse etched sharply on the canvas of sky, dark except for the strobe, now flashing and throwing light against the catwalks. The clouds, the vapor, the amaranthine variegations go through the gyrations of periwinkle and mauve, crimson hues there, salmon blush there, deep dark blue over there. The watchers are in awe, standing quietly on the deck of the lighthouse, looking over the moving waters, almost tasting the beauty, drinking deeply of the awesome panorama.

And so it is. We are born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward and as we go, as we speed through time, from one endless eternity into the next, we create an identity through marks and scars and bruises. Great personalities, filled with strength and pathos and humor are not born of ease and prosperity but rather of struggle and grief and battle. Tough times produce tough men. Tough men have scars. Our eyes meet theirs and we stop, arrested by the depth in their eyes, arrested by the surface interest, a surface that belies great depth. And after they’re gone, we are pensive, considering the things that made them who they are. 

It is dark now, the sun is gone, the dim afterglow the memory left behind…

September 2016

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