I offer up Picasso’s “Old Guitarist” tonight as tonight it speaks to me in a special way and begs to be heard. This piece is a good example of Picasso’s “Blue Period” (1901-1904). The term “Blue Period” actually caries a double meaning here as during this period Picasso tended to paint stark flat single images in blues and blue greens but also, during this period, he was grieving the loss of a young artist friend who had committed suicide and that grief is very evident in the work. Some art historians feel that his next period, his rose period, signaled the end of his depression and grief.
The Art Institute of Chicago website contains an excerpt from The Essential Guide which states that Picasso presented this painting as a “timeless expression of human suffering”. As I contemplate it tonight it begs me to relate the concept of human suffering with the inescapable hold upon which aging and old age has or will have on us all. It calls to mind the motion picture I recently watched about an old and blind priest who agrees to take in a woman who had been convicted of murder so that she might serve as his assistant in answering letters from parishioners. The woman is clearly very resentful at first and refuses to perform the work for which she has been paroled. In her resentment she decides to leave her new home taking with her money stolen from the old priest. But in the process of preparing to leave she discovers a large pile of old letters stacked under the priest’s bed and she realizes that the letters received each day from the country postman are not “new” letters, but letters which have been “recycled” by the postman so that the priest might continue to think he is still continuing to receive letters from his now non-existent flock. This triggers deep within her a rebirth of her sense of compassion and she decides not to leave but rather to join in “playing the game” to keep the old man happy. Then, the director of the film presents to us a scene which each and every one of us will face at some point in our life. Laboring under the misapprehension that he has a wedding to perform the old priest walks to his now abandoned church and tries mightily to carry out his usual duties in the absence of a congregation only to find he is simply too frail and too blind to do so. He is so broken by the experience he ends up writhing on the floor of the church in agony. His agony and absolute devastation is so heart rending it is reminiscent of the Crucifixion itself. Then comes the Resurrection, albeit still in this lifetime, as in a later scene, the parolee opens up one of the old letters only to discover that it is a letter from her own sister whose husband she had killed. In the letter the sister describes to the priest the circumstances of the murder which occurred in an effort to protect the sister from a surely fatal beating at the hands of her husband . The sister begs the priest to intervene and to save the parolee from a life in prison pleading the truly good nature of the parolee. The parolee is now brought to tears, breaks down and expresses her gratitude to the old man. And, it is at that moment that the Father passes into eternity having received, for one last time, the gratification of having redeemed a fellow human being.
So as we age and become old guitarists we share in the common suffering of all mankind. We find to our dismay that we can no longer perform the duties we have been trained to perform, or called to perform, and it is a real shock. So like the old priest it is then incumbent upon us to keep the faith in the knowledge that time has a way of bending and that which was can and will become that which is and even that will be transformed by God in the end. We, therefore, must always remember what we have done for others and never forget our true worth in the sight of God.
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