THEN AND NOW
I love teaching and am good at teaching for a couple of reasons. I love to communicate about important things, and I know my particular material. While I can teach history, philosophy, ethics, sociology, and psychology, I absolutely love art history.
Nearly a half century ago, I had a professor at Muskingum College who taught a required 10-hour art history class called The Arts. Students took it in either their junior or senior years. It was divided into 5-hours per semester in which you attended 3-lectures and 2-subsections weekly. I took it in my junior year and loved it. The professor, Louie Palmer asked me to teach several subsections weekly during my senior year. He never had asked a student to help teach the class. However, there I was in front of my fellow classmates as an undergraduate teaching sub-sections. That opportunity had a profound positive effect upon me.
I love art history so much that I have taught it at three different universities for more than the last dozen years. In fact, I'm currently teaching it at DeVry this term. This article will be posted by the time that the class gets to the Italian Renaissance in a couple of weeks.
The term, renaissance, means rebirth, and, in this particular case, the rebirth of Greco-Roman values, art, and understanding. Around the time the Columbus discovered the Americas, Domenico Ghirlandaio painted his most beloved painting, An Old Man and His Grandson. I knew all about that painting 50-years ago. It was a tempera painting from Florence in the last half of Quattrocento period.
While at one level, I knew a great deal about this painting by Ghirlandaio during the Italian Renaissance. It was an amazing portraiture of two people. I could repeat precisely what I read in various textbooks from when I was in college in the early 60s to the present. Nevertheless, it wasn't until 50-years later did I realize that I really didn't fully understand Ghirlandaio's famous painting. Let me explain.
I have a granddaughter, Ayanna, whose birthday happens to be today; she turned 17. She lived with me after her birth. However, that was when I was younger—in my early 50s. I enjoyed those days of her as an infant and a toddler.
Now, I am nearly 70. I have danced with death twice due to a fall and cancer. My wife, Ann, claims that I have danced another time with death in Athens, Greece when I was robbed and could have been mugged and killed. You can decide the number of dances with death that I have had...2 or 3. Nevertheless, I have always led all the dances with determination not to have death lead me.
On the brighter side of my life, 22-months ago, my second grandchild, Jack, came into my life. We live about 150 away from him. He lives in Indianapolis with his parents, and we drive down there every week to babysit for him from our home in Crown Point.
If you have children, you know the joy and happiness that children bring you. However, you won't really appreciate the sheer joy of grandchildren until your children have their own children...making you grandparents. Trust me. You haven't experienced that type of joy and excitement until a grandchild comes into your life.
Now, some of that sheer joy is that you float into the child's life for several hours and then float out of the child's life. You don't have the 24/7 responsibility that the actual parents face daily...and every day.
While you are fully aware of that, you also know that you have a huge advantage over the new parents due to the benefit of having been parents for decades. By the time your children start having children, you have had 20-30 years of being their parent. They, especially as first-time parents, have experience as a parent counted in months not decades.
Raising children is always filled with problems whether medical, educational, or emotional. As a parent and grandparent, you have been through problems before, faced them, and have come through those experiences generally unscathed. That experience provides both a clearer understanding and knowledge that most of the time all the concerns that parents have, in time, come and go...away.
For example, I worried when my first child, Scott, was born and came home from the hospital. He had been home for only a couple of days, and he sneezed for the first time. As a caring father, I feared he was going to get pneumonia if I didn't turn on the heat in the house and wrap him in a blanket. I was concerned about him getting a serious cold requiring hospitalization. I worried about this while I walked around in the house with a tee-shirt and jeans, because the weather outside the house was still warm and very pleasant in mid-September. Several hours later, my friend of mine who was also Scott's pediatrician happened to stop since he was in the neighborhood. He just stopped by to see us and asked to see Scott. This wasn't a house-call; it was just a friend of the family stopping by to celebrate our new arrival. When he entered the house and noticed that the heat was on and the household temperature was in the high 70s or low 80s. When he saw Scott all bundled up in a receiving blanket, he asked what was wrong. I told him that several hours before that Scott sneezed. He suggested that I turned off the furnace and removed the blanket. Scott didn't get phenomena that day or any other day of his life...which has been 40 plus years.
A couple of years later, Kristin, my second child, was a month old and was hospitalized for a urinary tract infection. I again was scared. In the hospital, the doctors gave her a sedative and corrected the problem. She left the hospital in a couple of days. This was a very common procedure for doctors to perform, but for parents it wasn't very common at all...especially seeing a new born with intravenous needles in her temple areas of her head. Kristin also is well to this day.
Michelle, my third child, fell down steps in our home and broke her shoulder when she was a toddler. While she didn't have to have a cast, she wore a sling for what seemed like months. It probably was 5 or 6 weeks but seemed to me a half year. Michelle also survived her childhood and is fine.
My point is that after all the painful and unpleasant experiences, my children have gotten through all those trials and many others. They are fully functional adults and are no worse for wear. The vast majority of children here in the States will go through a laundry list of problems as they grow up...and will make it into adulthood. Grandparents know that. New parents don't know that. However, all parents will learn this lesson of life after going through similar experiences as parents.
Grandparents have a wisdom that parents won't have until they have years of experience dealing with problems and making it through being a parent. Then comes the reward of all rewards, the parents will, after years of experiences, acquire the knowledge that grandparents have. Their wisdom will be acquired during decades of on-the-job experiences. That is one of the reasons that the Chinese revere their older citizens. Older people, especially grandparents, understand child-rearing. That experience level applies to every other level of knowledge. People become wiser due to experience.
Now, look at Ghirlandaio famous painting... What do you see?
The background of the painting is a dark wall of a room in the home along with a window out into the world. For those of you that know Renaissance painting, they will be quick to note the S-shaped curve of the road to a distant mountain many miles away. Everyone will comment upon the obvious love being expressed by each of the people in the picture. Both of them love each other.
The famous American Renaissance art historian, Bernard Berenson, once said of this Ghirlandaio painting, "There is no more human picture in the entire range of Quattrocento painting, whether in or out of Italy." I agree totally with that statement. It is a very poignant moment of intimacy. The child's hand rests on his grandfather's chest, and their eyes are locked in love and compassion for each other.
All of those things were known, read, and were a part of my knowledge base over nearly a half century ago that I have lectured on this painting since my college days in the mid-60s. However, when I see this painting today, I see an old man that will die in a year or so—or even less. I also see a young innocent child who doesn't have a wrinkle or a worry enmeshed into his cherub-like face. He loves his grandfather and his grandfather loves him. This love is obviously unconditional. One of them has been beaten and scared in life by time and problems and the other hasn't experienced a problem.
The grandfather is sitting in front of a dark wall. This retired old man is at the end of his life's journey; his end is near. The dark wall is a symbol of what lies ahead for him in a very brief about of time...the darkness of death and separation from this world and that of his relationship with the child.
Behind the child is the window to the world. The bright world upon which he will journey down the road of his life, and that journey is something about which he is totally oblivious. He has no idea that time marches on for both of them. He is delighted merely sitting there on the lap of his beloved grandfather. He wants no more than this sheer joy of their relationship. Life for the child is shared time together. It is a time to express their love for each other.
Both the old man and the young child see value in each other. The value of love between them isn't what each does or doesn't do in life. Love isn't based upon looks, age, ethnic background, or whatever. They share love not because their behavior that day. The cherub-like child isn't being loved because he ate his breakfast nor is the old man being loved for having made a lot of money and is retired. Both are loved...period. They have been able to discover the joy of love...unconditional love. They love each other just because.
I knew about this picture very well for many, many years. However, Jack's entrée into my world allowed me really to know this painting. It is a painting with a lot of Renaissance artistic stuff—like the S-shaped curve, chiaroscuro, pyramidal composition, sfumato, depth of the scene, en plein air, etc. All of this is true. However, all that artistic stuff misses Ghirlandaio's message. His message is the meaning of love. Essentially, I missed his message for most of my life...until Jack's arrival.
I have only one thing to say to my grandson, "Jack, for the present, life is limited to love expressed to you by your family, relatives, and me. You don't know that you have a long, long road upon which to walk during your journey through life. It won't be always an easy journey, and I won't be there for many of the years of your journey. However, remember these times of being together in the deep recesses of your heart and mind. I truly love you, and I know that you truly love me. What more is there to say? Just smile and laugh together for now."
Visit The Mentors and Me page to read more about this topic.