Contrasts

Being off on my own has not only enhanced my sense of direction, but it has also proven to me that am brave. I used to think I lacked a sense of adventure. As a child, I was the one who stayed close to the teacher during field trips because I didn’t want to get lost. The others ran off, exploring and having a grand time, while I only saw what the teacher saw—never learning anything on my own. Shyness crippled me into an appendage of the teacher. I might as well have been her clipboard.

Years of adulting pushed some of that introversion out. It had to. How else was I going to eat if I didn’t go to the grocery store? It’s difficult to cross the checkout line without speaking, but I found it can be done. Despite this bold move to nourish myself, reticence for being out and about amongst people I didn’t know was still terrifying.

Going back to school a few years ago was a big move. My body felt like a ragdoll bouncing along the pavement as I walked to my first class. Terrified, is the word. I thought about turning around a million times. I’m not quite sure what kept me moving forward, but I’m glad it did. Taking those steps propelled me to where I am now—being in London.

And today, I wandered off on my own again. All by myself, I left the group after our walking tour and went to The National Gallery. I saw many wonderful works by artists such as Rubens, Botticelli, van Gogh, and Rembrandt. They were all magnificent. But the one I was drawn to most, was by an unknown artist.

Scholars and critics used to think this particular painting was part of Rembrandt’s work, but that is no longer the case. The image intrigued me because of the contrast between the dark and the light. I studied it for a long time, from many angles and distances. The room attendant must have thought me strange for how long I was obsessed with this painting.

When I was little, I spent a lot of time by myself, reading. Like the man in the painting, I was in the dark. Not because of reading—that opened up whole worlds to me—but because I chose to be alone out of fear. But I don’t do things based in fear anymore. The light in the painting appealed to this new part of me.

Upon leaving the gallery, dusk was beginning and I had no idea where the rest of my group was or where the nearest Tube station might be. So I walked, stopping periodically when a street performer caught my eye or ear. One group of three gentlemen had an enthralling presence around them and I listened for a long time. I enjoyed it so much I dropped a few quid in the open guitar case.

By the time they finished their set, it was definitely getting dark, but the music made me happy, so I wasn’t scared. I could have asked someone, but providence intervened. I looked up and there, contrasted against the darkening sky was a sign for the Underground twenty feet away.

A Man seated reading at a Table in a Lofty Room

Image: “A Man seated reading at a Table in a Lofty Room”
Courtesy of The National Gallery – London, England.

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