Gallery P6, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City
I was raised in a devout Christian (Southern Baptist) household, and as such was always very concerned with all things religious. It may surprise you to know that even despite the fact that Baptists don't seem to put any emphasis or value on relics, I was somewhat obsessed with them. I wasn't ever sure whether they were truly mystical, but the fact that massive groups of people believe they are was enough to inspire awe within me.
Perhaps the appeal came from the idea that an object could be valued so immensely for no other reason than its association with a religion and its stories. Or perhaps it was more superficial: an ancient artifact defying all odds and surviving for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. A makeshift immortality of sorts that I envied. Whatever it was that drew me to religious relics, it continues still. Even after years of separation from the religious community, I can't help but marvel at relics and artifacts from the churches I abandoned after they abandoned me.
I meandered aimlessly around the kinda-sorta-antechamber that houses this reliquary. Thinking back to all my visits to the Nelson-Atkins, it occurred to me on this day that patrons in this section of the museum all seem to spend more time with the artifacts than they typically do with paintings and sculptures in the other galleries. I suspect it's because people have historical frames of reference to religion and their own religious upbringings and these objects that were supposedly literal pieces of those stories they memorized (in part) as a child.
But no matter the gallery, patrons' eyes are always quite inattentive to the info cards placed nearby. The many eyes - old, young, blue, brown, green, hazel with golden specks - linger lovingly on the sacred items encased behind glare-free glass, then rake haphazardly across the black text before vaulting off and away, impatient for the next relic.
I have been guilty of that so often. Indeed, I did that during my first pass-through of this particular gallery on the very day I wrote this post. But I reminded myself (as I must often do during these treks) that a huge part of my motivation for this blog is to slow down, absorb the art, and educate myself. A great way to do all three is via the free and fascinating blurbs the curators have made for most of the works. And both I and the museum are better for it.
To wit: On first pass, you see a gold reliquary housing what appears to be some sort of capped vial in a glass tube. But then you read the curator's informative placard and are forced to look closer. That's not a vial but a finger bone, preserved as a religious relic in a gold-plated silver reliquary. And it's not just some random finger bone, but one believed to have belonged to St. John the Baptist (a prominent figure in Christianity, if you are not aware).
And I think what this says to me above all else is how important it is to embrace every single speck of every single moment and look deeply at what and who surround us. There's so much more than meets the eye. Every object and every person and every place have a history that ranges from mundane to fascinating.
But if you ask me, even the mundane can surprise us. Someone once told me I tell a great story. They punctuated their compliment with a bit of self-deprecation: "Not me, though. My life is too boring."
I rejected that statement. "Everyone's life is interesting. Everyone has a great story to tell; it's just a matter of telling it in a way that captures that feeling. No one wants to hear a story you don't want to tell. But if you learn to love and appreciate your story, then others will be all ears."
And sure enough, given the right open-ended questions, most people can tell you a tale that will engross you. We are all valuable and unique. I would argue that for all the value St. John the Baptist's finger bone apparently possesses, that we're all just as valuable and no less captivating. Maybe even more so.
So write your info card, put it out for everyone to see. Most will pass by and give you barely a second's notice, but someone, someday will read your story and both you and they will be the better for it.
The Acknowledgements Page
She closed her book at the acknowledgements page
She gave up her story before it'd been relayed
She twiddled her thumbs and watched the ink dry
On that unfinished inscription: "Dedicated to my..."
Her tale unbegun and begging for breath
The empty pages' apathy, it's predestined death
She believed too hard that no one would care
She believed too well that no story was there
What about that time she overcame loss
Or when she took 1st place with her tomato sauce
What about her youthful creative endeavors
Or that childhood injury that predicts the weather
What about the abuses she somehow survived
The strength of will that kept her alive
What about her cat that farted and ran
Or the time she exposed a door-to-door scam
What about her bright, unflagging self-esteem
Or how she realized two of her life's dreams
What about how she picked up that pen
And finally wrote the acknowledgements in
"Dedicated to my most imperfect self
The one I wanted to stash on a hidden shelf
Where I would gather mounds and mounds of dust and hide