English: Tuileries Palace under the Second Empire. Destroyed by fire in 1871. Français : Palais des Tuileries sous le Second Empire. Détruite par un incendie en 1871. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Last week I had the opportunity to view the The Art of the Louvre‘s Tuileries Garden on display at the High Museum. The exhibit was beautiful–the models astounding, the statues intricate, the paintings lovely. One painting held my eye far longer than the others. I have searched for the image online, but been unable to find it. “Rainy Day in the Tuileries” by Horton was the only note I took down.
Yet I remember the pinkish hues in the pooling water, amidst a sea of bare trees. The painting seemed surely to depict the dead of winter, a whitish backdrop littered with naked trunks and twisted limbs. One lone figure walked through the scene, with an umbrella as his only refuge.
I stood perhaps three full minutes, examining the umbrella. Why visit in the rain? I wondered. Why alone?
The answers were potentially many, but I settled on imagining myself the wanderer. No stranger to rain, I grew up embracing cold, dreary days. Winter found its home in my heart and my stories long before my knees screamed against the dropping temperature.
There is something beautiful about the rain: the way it washes over the earth, sending mud and grease down the gutters with the runoff; the way it patters on the roof, inviting sleep and warm mugs of tea; the way it cuts through to the skin, sinking into clothes and bones and guiding our thoughts to the pleasure of warmth. There is something gracious, too, in the snow: the beauty blanketing everything, the silence enveloping the air, the hibernation inviting renewal and rebirth.
These days, rain and winter have a great many other meanings. The cold makes my joints stiff. The heat in the house makes my eyes dry. There is the ever-present worry of cold and flu and slipping on ice. But something about this painting dissolved all that, if even for a moment. This lone figure was walking through one of the most beautiful gardens in the world. Although surrounded by rain and bare trees, how gloriously peaceful his walk must have been.
A decided extrovert, I often forget the tranquility of being alone. Sometimes, hiking in the woods or wandering a sparse art gallery are the times I feel the most alive, and the least lonely. There is so much beauty to be found, even in the gray days, and so much solace waiting to be discovered in solitude. In a world of constant connection and a consistent push to be overjoyed, we might miss those beautiful moments of separation. We might not appreciate the twinges of sadness, of regret, of doubt.
As Winter Solstice approaches, perhaps now is the best time to reflect and recollect in the sense that, as nature does each winter, we again collect the blossomings and blemishes of the year before. Perhaps now is the time to relish every moment: the cold, the gray, the bright, the fierce. Now is the time to hold it all close before letting it go, relinquishing it to the past so we may build upon its ashes.
This Solstice, find comfort in moments of solitude. Find silver in the gray sky. Appreciate each building block that has brought you forth, then forge on through your garden, umbrella in hand.