This post is dedicated to my recently-passed friend and neighbor, Sophie the Labrador. Sophie was lovely old gal who took her responsibilities of watching over the neighborhood seriously. I miss her.
One of my favorite artists is Andy Goldsworthy.
Goldsworthy makes art from natural objects. And I think the artist has a lot to teach us about loving and losing the animals in our lives.
Everything is ephemeral.
Most of Goldsworthy’s works are impermanent–some only exist long enough to capture in a quick photograph. Others, like a cairn or stone wall, will be acted upon by wind and water and shifting soil until they too pass away.
In the cosmic scope, all life is impermanent. And even dogs, cats, rabbits, and some birds are much shorter-lived than humans. Our awareness of this impermanence gives a sweetness to our relationships.
Some can’t bear the loss. After the death of a pet, they vow to never give their heart to an animal again. But for those courageous enough to face loss over and over again, the riches are innumerable.
Goldsworthy creates works knowing that any one could fail in an instant. That’s why each moment is worthy of his full attention.
Be present in the moment.
When Andy Goldsworthy is working on an installation, his project has his full attention. If he loses focus, Goldsworthy can lose all his work in that moment.
Part of the comfort of having a regular companion in your life is the ability to take him or her for granted. But it’s also a great danger. Because relationships–all relationships–atrophy without regular care.
If we aren’t full present, we can lose the focus of our work–bonding with another creature. Yes, we feed, bathe, walk, clean up after our pets. But all that caregiving is just part of nurturing a relationship. The daily work, done with attention, creates the bond.
Goldsworthy has two places to focus his attention. First in the process of creating and second in recording his work in a photography.
I have an uneasy relationship with technology. You’ll find no tv, Blu-Ray player, iPod or cell phone in my house. Even my laptop and wireless broadband internet constantly disappoint me.
But I’m thankful for digital cameras. Even my poor quality pictures of Shadow and now, Honey, are better than the lack of pictures of dogs I lived with in the pre-digital era.
Without photos, few people would ever see Mr. Goldsworthy’s work. Photo collections document his work for a large audience.
In a similar way, we document the appearance of our pets and their quirky behaviors online. They live on in the stories we tell about them. And sharing our memories creates a bond with strangers we’ve never met.
The life lessons we need come when we need them and from many places–our pets, our friends, neighbors…. And even from an artist we’ve never met.
If you’re interested in knowing more about Andy Goldsworthy, visit his website. And make a point of seeing the documentary film about his work, Rivers & Tides. Here’s a trailer to whet your appetite.