Friday, May 24, 2013

The Voyage of Life - Thomas Cole

My four-year-old son, Hugh, stands in front Thomas Cole’s first masterpiece in the series called The Voyage of Life.

In this painting, the boat flows out of the dark, solid, earthy mass of rock. The water actually flows backwards in this painting... back to the source in the darkness.

On board, is a baby. At the rudder, the large white figure is an angel. Golden angels are emerging from the water and taking form on the sides of the boat. At the helm is a golden angel holding an hour glass.

There is greenery and flowers on the banks. The plants are small and bright. The light is bright and diffuse.

Here Ava, my 10 year-old daughter, stands with one of her favorite paintings.   Artist Thomas Cole has removed the angel from the rudder and allowed the boy to take over steering.  The boat heads towards the dreamy castle in the sky.

Golden angels playfully cling to the boat with their heads turned towards the future. The landscape has matured and the light is bright.

Here I am, at age 41, facing turbulent waters along with Thomas Cole’s man on the boat.  The rudder is broken - no chance of steering out of the rapids! The man is in prayer position, but his back is to the source of  light. The white angel is up in the light source.

On the boat, most of the golden angels have fallen off. Two still cling to the side, but may not be able to hold on much longer. The vegetation is dry, brittle, twisted, and gnarled.

My mother, Marian Forma, willingly stood next to Thomas Cole’s painting even though she would not consider mid-60’s “old age.”

Here, the man on the broken down vessel is being guided home to the light by the angel.  In the light are a multitude of holy beings beckoning and welcoming. The man’s arms are open in a position of giving and receiving, no longer fearful.

The boat, with rudder missing  in “manhood,” has now lost the angel with the hourglass that was on the helm.  The only golden angel still clinging to the side of the boat is now turned inward  and literally hugging in with one broken wing remaining on its body.

In the darkness that surrounds the boat, there are still recognizable earthly forms, but they are not important.

originally published online at  June 14, 2006