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  • "Hell is yourself and the only redemption is when a person puts himself aside to feel deeply for another person."
    Tennessee Williams

    The image above was painted in the 1590s by Pieter Bruegel. It’s based on the myth of Icarus, whose father Daedalus fashioned wings made of feathers and held together by wax. The two took to the air. Despite his father’s frantic warnings, young Icarus flew higher and higher until the warmth of the sun melted the wax, and he plunged to his death.

    Bruegel chose not to make the boy the central figure of the painting. He's barely there. We see only his legs entering the water, just below the ship on the lower right. A shepherd stares skyward, presumably at the grieving Daedalus. The farmer looks straight ahead and continues with his plowing, illustrating the indifference of many people to the suffering of their fellows.

    The everyday world is littered with countless small epiphanies and little horrors. Sometimes they co-exist. A few days ago I had lunch with a friend on a terrace overlooking a lake. As spring days go, it was Platonic. The sun was out, a cooling breeze blew and there was no trace of humidity. A pair of great blue herons touched down not far from us and began to search the water intently. One stabbed his beak below the surface and came up with a wriggling fish. It was an idyllic afternoon. The fish, I'm certain, experienced it quite differently.

    The Talmud tells us that in the midst of our greatest joy we should leave space for a tear, for such will surely come. Conversely, during our worst grief we should leave room for a smile, for such will surely come. If we agree to act as witnesses to life in all its variety – from the inconsequential to the deeply meaningful, from the beautiful to the ghastly – if we observe with compassion and act without fear, the fall of a future Icarus may one day be cushioned and he or she returned joyfully to the skies.
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