Intention and impact don’t always align.
As it turns out, it doesn’t matter how good the intentions behind our actions may be, their impact is subject to elements that are out of our control, such as unforeseen circumstances and other people’s perception.
This evening, my husband and I had the honor of attending a stunning exhibition of the artwork created by Vincent Van Gogh.
It was absolutely incredible!
I have always felt a strong connection towards this particular artist, our similar backgrounds, and the stunning artwork he created, as a result.
Van Gogh was a Dutch post-impressionist painter who posthumously became one of the most famous and influential figures in the history of Western art. Raised in a strict, religious home, he did his best to conform and be accepted, but repeatedly failed and grew up feeling as though he just never quite fit in. He loved to read, to write, was a collector of quotes that “spoke” to him, and had an eye for and love of simple, natural beauty like sunflowers, starry nights, and the loneliness associated with certain landscapes.
Following the death of his father and attempted suicide of his girlfriend, he created his first oil painting and went on to create thousands of pieces of artwork in his short life. He was not commercially successful, however, and his life consisted of persistent depression and absolute poverty.
He struggled mentally and emotionally, drank alcohol to excess, had a bit of a temper, and is widely known for an argument he had with a friend/mentor that turned violent when Van Gogh attacked him with a razor blade. Ultimately, Vincent Van Gogh cut off his own ear and, shortly thereafter, checked himself into an asylum, seeking help for his deteriorating physical and mental health.
Was his life and work worthless?
He was considered, by the general population, as a madman and a failure. Sadly, he became famous only after his suicide, at the age of 37, and is now widely viewed by the general public as a misunderstood genius. Today, Van Gogh’s works are among the world’s most expensive paintings to have ever sold, and his legacy is honored by a museum named after him, which holds the world’s largest collection of his drawings and paintings!
A few years ago, a friend of mine got into a terrible motorcycle accident that sent him to a trauma center for x-rays, body scans, surgery, and extensive rehab, which was great because that’s when and how the doctors found pancreatic cancer early enough to remove it before it spread. If it wasn’t for the accident, who knows if or when he would have discovered the disease?
So, was the motorcycle accident terrible? Great? Neither? Or both?
Similarly, when my mom was diagnosed with Cancer, it was already end stage and resistant to treatment. She may have had several months or even years left to live but, eventually, this disease would have claimed her life in a very painful and disgusting way. If you knew anything at all about either one of my parents, you’d know that they were 💯 devoted to each other. My mom would not want to ever live without my dad – and my dad would not have fared well without my mom.
So, in 2017, when my parents lost their lives together in that motor vehicle crash, was something bigger than all of us at play that day? I consider them “lucky” in that they never had to say goodbye to one another or face the end of their lives alone.
And, let’s not forget that almost a decade ago, when my friend first suggested that I start writing this blog to chronicle my journey towards qualifying for the Boston Marathon, my initial reaction was: “Why? Who would want to read it?”, and she said: “That’s not for you to decide. You just write the blog – let people decide for themselves if they want to read it.”
This brings us to a tricky dichotomy: on the one hand, the value of this blog, the two motor vehicle accidents, as well as Van Gogh and his artwork are determined by the people impacted by them but, on the other hand, none of us are worthless, even if nobody sees our worth.
It’s been said that “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”, but don’t let that discourage you – I see it as a reminder that even though I can decide on a course of action, I need to completely let go of my attachment to any expected outcome or reaction.
When I catch myself questioning the actions, intentions, or perceptions of others I ask myself, “Who am I to decide?”, and that really puts me in my place.
Just as someone else’s nightmare is my personal dream-come-true (and vice versa), I default to believing that everything and everyone is valuable to someone, somewhere, depending on their time, place, or circumstance.
Buddhism teaches us that we are all Buddhas even though some of us are too blind to see it. Christianity teaches us that we are all God’s children, even though many of us don’t feel worthy of God’s love.
So, what do we do?
I believe we need to get out of our own way. Stop trying to control everything, and catch ourselves when we attempt to do the thinking on someone else’s behalf. Stop assuming, presuming, or deciding things for others, but rather decide for ourselves what is beautiful, important, valuable, or worthy of our time, attention, and energy.
If someone does not see your worth, it doesn’t mean that you are worthless.
Remove yourself from the center of the Universe.
Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” so let’s give Life more than a passive, dismissive, or perfunctory glance, and examine it until all concepts of worthlessness disappear.
Loosen your grip on every step of the process, and completely let go of attachment to a preferred outcome or end-result because it’s not up to you – and, really, what a relief that is!
Some people have said that my decision to run Boston without qualifying first was a cop out, while others continue to call it inspirational – the truth is, it doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks. Running Boston was my dream, and my journey to get there navigated me down some pretty dark and personal roads – roads paved with heartbreaking memories, childhood trauma, religious oppression, self-imposed expectations, deep rooted fears, and an unwavering desire to not merely survive, but to thrive!
“I went back to the beginning to find myself, but I quickly realized that I was no longer there.”
– Topher Kearby
This dream didn’t turn out exactly the way I’d intended, expected, or initially hoped that it would, but, looking back at it all now, I wouldn’t change a thing. The lessons I’ve learned along the way are invaluable and I am stronger now, because of it all.
At the age of 37, Vincent Van Gogh shot him self in the chest with a revolver. His last words to his brother, Theo, were: “The sadness lives on…”
He died the next day.
I wonder what he would think of this night, nearly 200 hundred years later, as we gather here to admire him, his life, and his epic works of art that went unsold and unappreciated in the days in which he lived…?
I wish it were not too late for him to know how beautiful, powerful, and strong his mind really was!