At Eternity’s Gate….
It’s All About Legacy

Winston Churchill, in an attempt to grasp and understand the USSR in October 1939 said on the BBC that Russia was “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” He could have said the same thing when it comes to Vincent van Gogh.

Vincent van Gogh

When I was in college in the early 60s, I took a required 10-hour art history class, which changed my life forever. The professor asked me to be his teaching assistant the following year. Essentially, I took class again, taught several sub-sections each week, wrote and graded the midterms and finals for both semesters. I love the arts…especially paintings.

One of the artists that I enjoyed a great deal was Vincent van Gogh. If I had the opportunity to get another doctorate, I would deal with the medical and psychological issues that van Gogh dealt with in his brief life of 37 years. In fact, I googled vincent van gogh medical and psychological disorder. There are nearly four and a half million sites that deal with the litany of problems facing van Gogh. Most medical professionals agree upon several of the following issues: lead poisoning, Ménière's disease, epilepsy, borderline personality disorder, acute intermittent porphyria, sunstroke, cycloid psychosis, schizophrenia, digitalis-induced xanthopsia, alcohol poisoning, and corneal edema.

In spite of a plethora of problems, van Gogh painted 860 oil paintings and another 700 drawings in less than a decade. A majority of the paintings were done in the last couple years of his life. Additionally, there is a collection of 820 letters that he wrote, which have survived. In his troubled life, he persevered and continued to paint.

One of van Gogh’s letters

Interestingly, he wanted to create a family of painters that could help each other artistically. Paul Gauguin and van Gogh lived and worked together in Arles for a couple of months in the fall of 1888. Van Gogh’s attempt create an artist’s colony with Gauguin failed. Gauguin left van Gogh and finally went to Tahiti in 1890.

This is The Yellow House where van Gogh lived in Arles.

What I admire about van Gogh was that even though he was beset by a litany of problems related to his health, with people, and lack of success as a painter, he carried on in spite of all those issues. He was driven. Interestingly, he was a dreamer. He wrote, “For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.” His ability to dream parallels Bobby Kennedy’s, “Some men see things as they are and say, why; I dream things that never were and say, why not.” Without van Gogh dreaming, he would have been lost in the annuls of history. Fortunately, his life was filled with dreams. And we have benefited from all his dreams. He said about his paintings, “I dream of painting and then I paint my dream.”

Several weeks ago, I wrote an essay about the movie, Loving Vincent which was followed by an article about Autotelic: Vincent, Me, and Modafinil. Modafinil allows me to focus upon what I consider the important things in life. Last weekend, I watched another movie about van Gogh, At Eternity’s Gate which is one more account of the life.

At Eternity’s Gate deals with some of the various problems van Gogh faced, many of which other movies, books, or essays have addressed. Nonetheless, the movie pushes the envelope of van Gogh’s understanding. The vehicle that the movie uses to explain the reason why he painted was expressed by the painter. “Maybe God made me a painter for people who aren't born yet.”

When I heard that one line, I realized that the movie was addressing the issue of legacy. I have successfully lead Death twice on the dancefloor of life. I know something that everyone knows. I’m not immortal. However, unless you have done the dance, you know that your clock is ticking, but it is ticking in your head intellectually. Dance with death and you grasp that reality in your gut. Once you understand that reality, two critically important things happen. One is that death causes you to come alive. While that seems an oxymoron, nevertheless, your Weltanschauung changes. You become more involved in life.

The second issue that comes into focus is your legacy. You realize that your legacy, what you leave this world, needs to be addressed and dealt with. What do you wish to leave the world at the end of your journey down the yellow brick road of life? Essentially, you are given the opportunity to decide upon what your legacy will be. Then you can work at actualizing it.

At Eternity’s Gate is a metaphor for each of us. Whether or not we have done the dance with death or not. Don’t waste the precious time that you have left here on Earth. Decide what is important to you. Your legacy will be that which the world will recall when they recall you.

Granted, our world won’t be as great and vast as was van Gogh’s world. He painted for generations of people who hadn’t been born. Nevertheless, you will determine how your personal world remembers you. Choose wisely. Then go out and do your type of painting for the masses. But, a cautionary warning, life will not permit you a redoing of your legacy after you enter eternity’s gate.