“I fell that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.” — Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890) has always been one of my favorite artists. In the late 1980’s, I visited New York City for the first time. I spent a day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and, at the time, there was a special exhibit of his work during his time in the psychiatric wards in Saint-Remy and Auvers-sur-Oise in France. Throughout his entire life, van Gogh suffered from severe melancholy — I’ve read of diagnoses of depression, bipolar disorder, and temporal lobe epilepsy. With psychiatric medicine what it was at the time, I don’t know that we’ll ever know from which malady he really suffered.
I absolutely love the bold colors with which he painted. But as much as I love his art, I fell in love with Vincent, the man, even more. For his entire adult life, van Gogh was consumed with the idea of relieving the suffering of others. In one of his many letters to his brother, Theo, van Gogh noted that the best medicine for anyone was “love and a home.” And what I’ve come to believe that van Gogh really meant by this was that, more than anything, human being need to feel a part of a family.
Knowing of Vincent’s fragile psyche, Theo provided his brother with financial support his entire life. Nevertheless, Vincent always felt estranged from his family and felt no one really accepted him. Indeed, at one point in his life, he felt a calling to the ministry, but ultimately failed in his attempts to complete his work at the seminary at Vlaamsche Opleidingsschool near Brussels. He did serve as a missionary in the village of Petit Wasmes in Belgium for a time. There he lived among the peasants he ministered to, taking residence in a small hut at the back of a local baker’s house. He was filled with such compassion for the poor souls that the baker’s wife was said to be able to hear van Gogh sobbing all night in his hut. His squalid living conditions were not acceptable to church officials and he was ultimately dismissed for “undermining the dignity of the priesthood.”
Fortunately, he ultimately found his true talent and calling as a painter and we are blessed to have so many of his works to now admire. Despite that he must have known how truly beautiful his works are, van Gogh was never able to shake his melancholy and his feeling of rejection from his own family and nearly everyone he encountered. I believe that van Gogh never felt truly loved by anyone. As we all know, van Gogh died of suicide in the wheat fields he painted so vividly.
This past week was a celebratory one for our family. Each night we watched our daughters perform their annual Spring dance recital and chorus concert. I thought a lot about van Gogh this week. I thought of how fortunate my wife and I feel to have the family we have. I hope our daughters always know how loved they are by Ann and me — indeed by many extended family members and friends. With all my problems with depression, I always knew I was loved by my family. I always have had a loving home in which I was a part. For that, I am truly grateful.
Vincent van Gogh was right, the best medicine for us all, ill or not, is “love and a home” — family. If you are fortunate enough to have a family, rejoice, for you are blessed. The best you have to offer is love to your family. But this doesn’t only include the traditional family of mother, father, and children, and extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. No, this includes the whole of the human family — no less than the whole of the human race.
Please remember that we are all brothers and sisters. Please do not fail to remember that many of us feel we have no family. Many fell rejected by all of society. This is the most awful feeling I could imagine. We can all help by loving each others. Please offer your love to no less than every single person you encounter — you may have no idea what battle he or she is facing. Sometimes, it is the smallest of love — a smile, a hug, a compliment, or the smallest favor — that will make all the difference in a person. Sometimes it might just mean the difference between life and death.
I have learned a lot from my study of Vincent van Gogh and his life and art. The most important lesson of all is the need we all have to feel loved. May we strive never to forget this. This, my friends, we owe each other — there’s just no doubt about it.
Copyright 2011. True Self Enterprises, Inc.