We had wandered miles that afternoon. Okay, maybe not miles. It certainly seemed like miles. As we are prone to do now and again, the Lovely Lady and I had taken an afternoon away from the mundane world of lawn-mowing and assorted yard chores (for me), and laundry and music preparation (for her). We headed for a few of the exotic, glamorous destinations we like to call flea markets. Okay, again, maybe not so glamorous. For us though, it is always possible to lose ourselves in the unusual and the vintage, and sometimes the just plain ludicrous, offerings to be found in the aisles of these modern day bazaars. We don’t really look for anything in particular. We just pick up items we find interesting and exclaim things like, “I had one of these, growing up.” We love books and tools, furniture and dishes, even the odd musical instrument or toy. It is relaxing and stress-free, and after all these years, we still enjoy each other’s company. Strange, huh?
On this particular day, we had just looked hopefully at a set of century-old books and then decided that the price was a little steep, so we kept moving down the row of neat (and some not-so-neat) booths, giving each a chance to snag our attention with its hidden treasures. All of the sudden, there it was! The beautiful little painting hung on the wall in a cheap frame, matted with paper certain to be leaching acid into the artwork, and the back covered in brown kraft paper. The price was affordable…fifteen dollars. Examining the little painting of the Tower Bridge in London, England, we decided (erroneously, it turned out) that it was probably a water color, fairly well done, by an artist who was not familiar to us. The price wasn’t much of a gamble, so we purchased it, along with a few dishes that had caught the Lovely Lady’s fancy.
Later that evening, I started doing a little detective work. The artist, I found, was actually well-known for his limited edition prints, with most of them drawing a price of over thirty times what we had paid. I should have been ecstatic, but I had a problem. Like my strange fixation with books, I just can’t bring myself to sell an art item I have purchased. I buy art. I don’t sell it. It was pleasant to discover that the little object was worth more than we paid, but I would never make a profit from it. I also had another problem. I don’t hang prints on my wall. Yep, another strange foible. I want original pieces of art on the wall, not copies that someone else has on their wall, too. Upon removing the kraft paper from the back of this pretty little piece, I found an original label that substantiated my suspicion that it was indeed a limited edition print, valuable to be sure, but not an item I was likely to hang on my wall.
I hear you muttering. “What a nut! It’s a beautiful picture! It might even be worth quite a bit of money! How stupid can you be?” You’re probably right. It’s just that, there on the hand-written label on the back of this picture, I’m told that this is number fifty-seven of a printing of ninety-nine copies of this pretty little picture. Ninety-eight other people in the world have this same picture hanging on their walls! Ninety-eight! Right or wrong, I decided long ago that I like original artwork, not copies. The originals I possess may not have as much monetary value; they may even be uglier than most, but one thing is certain: No one else has the same thing hanging on their wall.
Is there a point to this rambling post, you ask? I hope so. You see, I’m pretty sure that, if we can extend the analogy of paintings and prints to people, we were all intended to be originals. Not one of us bears a label which declares us to be number fifty-seven out of ninety-nine copies produced. Just yesterday, I had a conversation with the Lovely Lady about how strange each of us is in someone’s eyes. I have no doubt that I have been labeled strange, or odd, or even weird, more times than I could imagine. I gladly take ownership of those labels. It means that I’m an original and I think that’s greatly to be preferred to the numbered copy label.
Why then, do we spend our whole lives trying to fit in? We shove and squeeze and contort ourselves to become whatever is “normal”, never realizing that who we really are is much more important than who we can pretend to be. We buy the “in” clothes, drive the “in” cars, and live in the “in” neighborhoods, all to meet someone else’s expectations. I used to think that it was just those of us who grew up in church who “wanted to be clones”, as a semi-popular Christian song put it a number of years ago. I’m confident now that making ourselves into copies is a universal problem, often with serious consequences. The masks we wear and the facades we construct hide individuals, originals who were never intended to take on the different identities we are forced into. Often, we force our children, our friends, and even our spouses into the molds we have constructed, simply because we have our own goals and aspirations for them. We never stop to realize that the individual inside of the mold is sure to break out sooner or later, frequently in a way which causes damage and pain to all involved. Original is good. It’s just not always comfortable, but it’s how God designed us.
Every single one of us is an original piece of art, intended by our Creator to be individuals and to achieve our own purpose in life. We won’t all be an oil painting, or a wood-carving, or even a pen-and-ink abstract drawing. Like snow-flakes, or fingerprints, not one of us is the same as anyone else. Instead of ridiculing the odd, the “different”, why don’t we celebrate them? I know I fit into those categories. I’ll let you in on another secret…I’m pretty sure you do, too.
It’s a good thing.
“Everyone in the world is strange but me and thee. And sometimes, I’m not too sure about thee.”
(Anonymous quotation, probably of Welsh origin)
“Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”
(Oscar Wilde~Irish poet~1854-1900)
Originally published 12/29/11 under the title “A Real Original”
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.