Wednesday, January 24, 2007

How can I give thanks?

Reinhold Marxhausen was a creative colleague who taught at Concordia University in Nebraska. For example, he would take his art students to the city dump on the last class session before the Thanksgiving break, because the dump contained the remnants of all the things that had brought joy to the community that year – the cans that had contained food, the boxes that had protected purchases, the tools and equipment that had outlived their usefulness. The sad end of all these things was a jumbled smelly mess, but Marxhausen appropriately thought that folks ought to recognize and be thankful that this huge pile of junk had actually enhanced their year.
Marxhausen encouraged his students to express their gratitude for such junk by creating artistic expressions out of combinations of the discarded objects—to give them a second life grounded more in aesthetics than utility. The recycled objects would thus become valuable for their own artistic sake. A container would abandon its former existence as a mere protective covering of something that was considered more important at the time, magazine page segments would communicate an entirely different message within a collage, and an inoperative vacuum cleaner would move from the disgrace of being discarded to the transformational prestige of being the base of a funky floor lamp (that then regrettably illuminated the surrounding dust).
Recycling has now become a cultural commonplace. Composted food scraps jump-start next year’s garden. Communities recycle bottles, cans, paper, and cardboard. Someone happily purchases the clothing that others had discarded at a resale shop.
But then, isn’t it also a form of recycling when we turn trees into books and housing, and plants into food and flower arrangements—a technological shift away from their natural state, as it were? It’s this constant shifting of functional states within the biosphere that makes life so interesting and celebratory. Sunflowers in a garden became sunflowers in a vase became Vincent Van Gogh’s painting of sunflowers in a vase became print reproductions that have already added 100 years to the otherwise short lifespan of that mundane vase of sunflowers.
So hooray for a world that gives us multiple opportunities to use, share, and enjoy anything and everything!

reproduced from Gifts and Gratitude By Robert Sylwester, Ed.D.

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