Facebook Twitter



"You can't hide broccoli in a glass of milk."

- Rosemary - age 7, from the book,"When You Lick a Slug,

Your Tongue Goes Numb"

As Veloy and I were driving home from the hospital two weeks ago, I kept thinking of the tiny "stent" the doctor had placed in the artery that wraps around and feeds the front half of my heart. They told me it is about the size of those little springs in a ballpoint pen.

Every time we would hit a bump in the road, I would wonder if it was getting jiggled too much, even though they had explained how it is expanded up against the wall of the artery and within a few weeks will be permanently embedded. It was strange to realize that such a tiny thing could make such a major difference, a difference between life and death.

The experience taught me something major about human nature, how we take life so seriously and become so invested in our own importance that our perspective toward all else can be somewhat distorted. We carry this subconscious notion that the world won't go on without us.

One of the strangest feelings that keeps recurring this week is the awareness that when you die the rest of the world doesn't. Oh, there are a few people - family and close friends - who are really affected by the loss for a while. But nothing stops happening. The mail is still delivered. The grass has to be cut. People get on with their lives.

For the next few weeks there are the conversations when your acquaintances say, "Isn't it terrible about Dennis. Boy, you never know when your time is going to come, do you? Man, what a shock! Oh, by the way, could I borrow a cup of sugar?"

On the day my funeral probably would have taken place, Veloy and I were talking with our friends, Roger and Gwen, and Veloy said something about how maybe we should hold a funeral anyway, kind of like how when Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn attended their own funeral. After all, it is the one meeting in your life where people really express their appreciation for you, and it is sad to think that you only miss it by a few days. So maybe a living funeral would be a good idea. But then I realized that it wouldn't be so much fun after all, becauseyou would have to lie still for such a long time.

I have a friend who for several years invested most of his time and energy in a small business in which he took a great deal of pride. He was very conscious of how much his employees depended on him and how much his clients appreciated his services and the quality of his product.

But there came a time when the business became so much of a burden that he opted to bail out of it - a difficult decision given his emotional investment.

Then a strange thing happened. A few months later he happened to be back at the shop to finalize a few details. It was hard to be there. It brought back a lot of memories. Anyway, he had a few heavy things that had to be lifted into the back of his truck, so he searched out a couple of workers and asked them to give him a hand. Of course, since he had been gone new people had been hired, and the man he asked to help had not been in the shop very long.

"Excuse me," he said, "but could you help me lift this into the truck?"

Without pausing, the new employee cast the former owner a fleeting glance and said, "Who are you?"

Already, the ripples in the pond of his passing had settled. It was a real lesson in the establishment of priorities.

In a personal vein, I have realized lately that of all the expressive work I do, my welded sculpture assemblages, which I build from scrap metal and found objects, are probably the most fulfilling. I love working on them but seldom spend time doing so because they aren't high on the list of practical priorities.

Over the years I have collected huge stacks of what I guess most people would label "junk" but which, as I have collected the stuff, I have been ecstatic about because I have envisioned what I wanted to do with it. But the junk just keeps piling up, and for a couple of reasons. One is that I have held it too precious, knowing that once it is used up in a sculpture it is gone. More importantly, though, has been the rationale that "Someday, I'll have time."

All of us have something like that. It might be a book we have wanted to read, or a place we have always wanted to see, or a person we would like to get to know better.

One day it hit me (it was actually about 5 months ago) - that if I didn't start making my assemblages, someday I might have a heart attack and die, and then what? The junk would still be junk, because no one else sees what I see in it.

It might sound silly that a person could get so invested in a pile of junk, but that's what makes it so difficult to give ourselves permission to receive what we really want. We are constantly making value judgments, defining, in a sense, the priorities of our lives as junk - and more generally than not, depriving ourselves of the things we value most.

A few years ago I attended a seminar in which we were given the task of carefully evaluating and then writing down a description of what we envisioned as our life's "purpose." I always carry a copy of that statement in my wallet. This is how it reads: "My purpose is to use my power of ex-pres-sion and sensitivity to create awareness and integration in myself and in others." (Now you know why I enjoy writing this column so much. It certainly isn't for the money.)

One of the things that the assemblages do for me (they've never been for the money either) is that they fashion a new entity out of dissimilar parts - they create a form in which something has to be lost in order to be found.

In life, too, we more often than not have to lose ourselves, as Christ said, in order to find ourselves.

Dennis Smith is an artist and writer living in Highland, Utah County.