Mission Dirigo

There is a voice that doesn’t use word. Listen. – Rumi

Petite boule magique (16 May 2020)

In Petite boule magique, a little girl stands alone against the backdrop of a white winter day. In her mitten-clad hands, a snowball the size, shape and color of her own head. The ball is precious to her; she gazes at it lovingly, but with her head slightly tilted to the side as if she has never seen it before.

I remember being intrigued by this, but only for a moment. Petite boule magique was just another painting, and I did with it what I did with all the paintings I was churning out at the time: I put it in my storage pop-up coffee table and paid it no more mind. Or so I thought. A voice had spoken; the heart had heard.

In the weeks following Petite boule magique, the voice told me to begin planning a trip to Maine. This was May 2020. The world was in lockdown. There were no buses or trains, and flying was hardly an option. Getting to Maine meant driving. I hated driving; the thought of it paralyzed me with fear. And yet, as soon as the school year wrapped up, I found myself in a rental car making the 375-mile trek from Brooklyn to my childhood home. It took me nine hours. I got turned around and lost three times before even getting out of the city. I ended up on Long Island somehow. I cried. Once in fear. Another time in frustration. I called one of my sisters and told her I was turning the ship around, and to tell our mother I was sorry. But I didn’t turn around. The voice wouldn’t let me.

Art communicates in a language spoken so deep inside the heart that it can only come from outside of it, from the one who created it. This language is felt, not heard. The voice I was feeling in the car that day was God’s voice. He didn’t let me turn the car around because he was sending me on a mission. Mission Dirigo, as I like to call it now. The goal of this mission had been spelled out in Petite boule magique: Love yourself. The instructions for how to start doing this were also in the painting: The girl holds herself out at arm’s length. She looks at this self with a head that hangs in mid-air, detached from her body, which is the seat of the heart. Look at yourself, the painting commands. Not with the head; with the heart.

Waterstain for Petite boule magique

Mission Dirigo consisted of going through the dozen or so boxes of old school papers, personal letters, books, and photos that had been sitting in storage in the back bedroom for over two decades at that point. For years, I had wanted to sort through that stuff in order to bring home with me whatever I found precious enough to keep. With a rental car at my disposal, I could finally do this. And for four days, working in peaceful silence with my mother who helped me organize and sort, that is exactly what I did. What I found in those boxes was a life. My life. And yet, it felt like I was looking at someone else’s. This someone was beautiful. A poet and an artist, a writer and a musician. She was adventurous and daring and fun-loving. She was intelligent, witty, and funny. This person was so awesome. How could I possibly not love her?

If this were a Hollywood movie, I would lift my head slowly and thoughtfully and look straight at the camera with a look that speaks something along the lines of, “It’s not possible, you fool!” I would get in my rental car with my boxes, filled with love for myself, and drive off to the sound of dramatic yet uplifting music. The screen would black out, the words Mission accomplished would flash across it, and everyone in the theatre would stand up and cheer.

But this is not a Hollywood movie. It has no ending, only beginnings. With Mission Dirigo, God had given me the tools I needed to start the work of loving myself. This kind of thing doesn’t happen overnight. This kind of thing is a work in progress.

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