I remember the first time I saw “The Birth of Venus” by Botticelli. I was on honeymoon in Italy and the wonderful thing was that I was not really expecting it all.
The great thing about organising a wedding before you go on honeymoon is that you do not have time to plan the latter as thoroughly as you perhaps should. It was December, which meant that Florence was magically Christmassy. There were lots of tourists, but we were enthralled by the place. Even though I was a bit sick (let’s call it aeroplane flu), we would not be subdued and so we stubbornly waited in a very long queue outside The Uffizi, for what felt like a terribly long time.
When we got inside we slowly wandered through various rooms, quite awestruck by the dizzying volume of work. We wandered into a larger room, full of bustling people and there it was, hanging sedately across the hall from us.
“The Birth of Venus” is not my favourite piece of work. Not even my favourite from that era, but it is a very famous work. I believe that the really well known pieces often suffer from their fame. Their essence or impact is often diminished by familiarity. This was most evident to me in this case.
You can understand my initial surprise, followed by recognition, then a comforting familiarity, giving way to joy for beholding, in person, a work that adorns so many textbooks.
I don’t think that I would have been so excited to have seen it, if I had known that it was just around the corner. I knew that the gallery was fairly celebrated and therefore must house some famous pieces, but we spent an afternoon at the Uffizi because we had the time and curiosity to explore the city we were staying in, not because I wanted to see anything specific.
The room was full of people and so I sat down on a bench, trying to ignore the hustle around me and took in the painting for a few minutes. It was brilliant - I’m sure Botticelli deserves more of my attention than he got - but for me the profound value was for enjoying a piece of work that I had not expected, while lots of people hurried in and out taking it in for a moment, their own agenda pressing them hastily along. I was as much observing it as I was observing the other observers.
I learnt that day (despite the aeroplane flu) that taking a moment to allow for the possibility of another moment is very important. I did not have an agenda and that led to a delightful surprise, that I could not have foreseen. Furthermore, I could enjoy it because I did not have to be anywhere else or do anything more.
Lot’s of people saw “The Birth of Venus” that day, but then there is “seeing” and there is “seeing”.
This morning, when I read the quote that headlines this (Thanks Mr Chimero), I remembered that day. I remembered that I needed to remember those rich moments more often. I remembered that I needed to make moments where those sorts of things could happen, and be completely ok with whether they did or did not. And I realised that this applies to so much of what we do with our lives. Our world is very hasty and spending every moment to keep up with the latest is both encouraged and facile. We must work hard to stay relevant and I believe that being purposeful and busy (relatively) is good, but let’s not ever miss a grand vista opening around us, or even a momentary glimmer, because we were so focused on the next step.