In these times, chairs seem to be invisible. They often sit alone and forgotten in a corner. People pass them by, and move them out of the way, like the inconvenient homeless person who sleeps on a bench – which is itself just a big chair. They pull them up and sit on them as if they aren’t there, or as if they are always there and therefore worthy of being forgotten. Sometimes, I have felt like a chair.
There was a time, when chairs had meaning, and beauty, and value. They still do, but the mass of humanity has lost the ability to appreciate their simple elegance. Vincent Van Gogh painted a portrait of his bright yellow chair. The painting is entitled, “Vincent’s Chair.” It is one of my favorite paintings. He had only one chair, and so he understood its intrinsic value; like a man with a single lover, instead of as a man with many women who pass anomalously through his life. Vincent’s chair is not just a chair; it is a memory of restful times, and thoughtful moments, and friendships. Vincent’s chair invited him, and only him, to sit and rest. It is a lover, and I must admit wanting it for myself from the very first moment I saw it. “Thou shall not covet thy neighbors chair,” commands the burning bush; but still, I am a sinner.
There was a time, when chairs were built by artisan. They began as sections of wood that began as sections of living trees. The chair maker never really made the chair; he simply released it from the wood. That is the way of life and art; nothing is really created, it is released; it has already happened in another dimension. The chair is a part of the tree, the tree is a part of the chair, and we are all a part of it all. When the artisan finished releasing the chair from the tree, he could sit back, on the chair, and see what they had done together. He understood its meaning and its value and like God on the seventh day, he knew that it was good. We need to go back to the times where it was good.
Sometimes people are like chairs. They can seem invisible. We have become enslaved by our technology; slavery wrapped in the promise of freedom; chained to our cell phones and blackberries, encased in the exoskeletons of our cars, and entombed inside our houses that somehow never become homes. These are distant and lonely times. We text each other in broken, dispassionate, semi-thoughts, and have legislated away our freedom to be kind in the workplace. Today, a well-meaning hug or kind word can leave you broken, ruined, permanently damaged and wondering where the humanity has gone in human kind. In our attempts to protect our “rights”, we have taken them away. So now, we each walk past each other, looking straight ahead, avoiding eye contact, avoiding any contact, and then returning to our pseudo-lives by way of the exoskeleton freeway, that isn’t free, and isn’t a way. Like the chairs that we pull up without thought or appreciation, we are now mass-produced, anonymous, and largely alone.
Each morning, I wake before sunrise and go to my favorite local coffee shop. A large round “Table of knowledge” is surrounded by chairs that to the uninitiated all look alike. Mine is the one that sits at one o’clock, facing the door. I always know if it has been moved. From that chair I spend time with some good souls, “salts of the earth,” if a little rough around the edges and unacceptable by our current plastic national standards. From our chairs we talk and laugh, and “solve” the world’s problems one by one. Most importantly, we are honest, true, natural, open, failing, forgiving, involved, connected, forgiven, and in general, we are all the things that American culture seems to be losing. Isn’t it ironic how a group of chairs in a circle around a campfire or a small town coffee shop table can bring worlds together? Maybe we need more good chairs and small town coffee shops.
As I write these mental ramblings, I sit in Steve’s writing chair. It is a simple chair, dark mahogany in color, with a small khaki seat pad and an inviting nature. I love it, and appreciate it. Steve’s writing chair is the anchor from which all of the artifacts in my home office are attached. It is like the mother of a family, whose passing reminds all of the void she once filled. In the corner, sits my “adventure chair.” Made by hand in India, it is a dark wooden camp chair whose seat, back, arms, and hassock are made of thick, dark, adventurous, leather. From its seat, I have read many books of hunting in Africa and passages though distant lands. Both of my chairs are different. Both are appreciated for what they are, and for the journey they have taken. I do not expect them to be the same, or conform to my expectations. I take them just as they are. Maybe if we could find it within ourselves to stop to appreciate the hand crafted chair, with all its imperfections, we could then begin to accept the differences between each other. Maybe we could begin to reject the mass produced and plastic that surrounds us both in furniture and in the masses of people that used to be humanity. Maybe we should all take the time to sit for a while, and think about that.