by Brian Crean
The outward is only the outside of that which is within. — Thoreau
Almost 15 years ago, I moved into the building that has since become my first true home. Originally constructed in 1893, designated as a historic landmark in 1979 and renovated for residential use in 1984, my home exists within an old mill, divided into 28 separate residential units.
My individual unit is small, but the first time I walked in the door, I knew it was where I wanted to live. The exposed brick walls, the huge wooden beams and the unique character of the interior corridors and hallways all made a deep impression on me. At the time I couldn’t really explain why or how, yet something about the building made me feel comfortable. The character of the structure seemed to match my own, awakening intangible feelings of belonging.
I think a big part of me has always been drawn to the past. Perhaps many things that exude age, character and hidden knowledge have tended to attract my attention over the years. When I was a little boy, my grandparents seemed to have a special appeal that my own parents, and other younger adults, seemed to lack. When I was older and went to college, I chosephilosophy — the study of wisdom — as my primary area of study. And, when I attended graduate school for fine art just a few years ago, the work of the old masters tended to interest me more than the popular and more contemporary artists of the 20th Century. In fact, it still seems unfathomable to me that modern artists such as Pablo Picasso or Andy Warhol could ever be compared to the likes of Leonardo Da Vinci or Johannes Vermeer. Even including their names in the samesentence feels unnatural to me.
I believe that time is the ultimate filter and the final test of talent and character. Sometimes new experiences are exciting for only one reason: simply because they are new. And as time always seems to remind us, novelty can never endure a wider and more mature perspective. In my mind, there is nothing more mediocre and unimpressive than a passing popular trend. While we’ve all been caught up in them at one time or another, but when we age and our understanding of life deepens, so many things become endlessly trivial — like tiny ripples on the surface of the ocean.
Perhaps the wisest fish are found in the deeper waters, swimming alone or in small schools, following the undercurrents and steering clear of the large crowds of shallow, warm-water jumpers and splashers. Maybe the wisest people are like squids, capable of braving the colder darker waters where intuition and memory are the best guides. Just as some plants are prettiest while blooming in the spring, there are others that shine brightest and show their true colors in the fall. The passage of time may feel like a loss to some and a gain to others. Maybe if we think more creatively about our lives, if we view ourselves within a wider context, we can see that the best lives are those that continue to develop. The best lives are in a constant state of becoming. If we view life as a beautiful process of personal development, an unfolding of our deepest nature, then perhaps we can see each other as fellow travelers on a voyage toward home. With each passing year and new wrinkle that appears around the corner of my eye, I thinkthat I’m becoming more at peace with myself. Maybe time gives back more than it takes. The concept of home has so many meanings for all of us. My own home is both where I live and where I am going, and it feels both physical and spiritual.
I think love and acceptance are the true foundations of contentment and the true foundations of our desire to feel at home in the world. When we take the time to find ourselves each day, we can offer so much more to the people around us. It’s only when we are content that we can see the world well and know how to help. Not only is an unexamined life not worth living, it is simply not very helpful to the people around us. Shallow love is ineffective; it’s only the most measured and considered love that can reach into the depths and the hearts of our loved ones.
After we have learned to be at home within ourselves, we can begin to give to others. Our own contentment gives warmth to the people around us. The deepest truths always seem the most paradoxical.
Brian Crean lives in Greensboro. Find his writing at stillbook.org.