Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.” ~ Marcus Aurelius
My pulse quickened as I walked into the Musée d’Orsay’s main hall, bathed in light from its stunning, Beaux-Arts, glass ceiling. I paused briefly to take in the architectural splendor and then anxiously walked toward the gallery where I had last seen La Solitude, 3 1/2 years before.
Worried, I wound my way through the galleries and crowds. I turned the corner, and my fears were realized: it was gone.
I turned around and scanned each wall, hoping it had been moved. I peeked inside every wing and gallery on the left side of the building. It wasn’t there. I pushed on with my search. I couldn’t give up! After all, I had traveled over 4.500 miles to see this painting.
I took the escalator up, searching floor by floor. My heart would lift in hope, then sink, as I scoured each gallery.
A handsome couple, tucked into each other, arm in arm, chatted vibrantly as they walked toward the gallery I was leaving. Loneliness and poignant loss descended like a suffocating curtain. I began to cry and turned away to hide my tears.
Back in the main hall, I stared across the tops of the statues, displayed like solitary figures at a party, and fixed my gaze on the enormous, ornate, gold clock on the far wall. I wondered how many travelers had gazed upon it as they arrived and departed during the years the building was a train station, Gare d’Orsay.
For a moment, it was 1987, and my friends and I had stepped out of the train onto the platform in Paris’ Gare du Nord. The weight of my backpack felt good on my shoulders, and I walked with my eyes upward, taking in the architecture and design. Possibility surged through me, taking me to a newfound confidence and joy in my future. Having just graduated from college a few weeks earlier, at that moment I had a glimpse of a life of adventure, wonder, and inspired action.
A forecast that had come true.
I headed over to the right side of the building and approached the galleries of Impressionist paintings. The fog of loss and disappointment had lifted, and I was excited once more. I accidentally bumped into an Asian man’s shoulder as I rounded the corner and turned to apologize.
Over his shoulder, the shoulder I had bumped, there it was—like a beacon of every beautiful moment of my life, rolled into one.
Instead of saying, “Excusez-moi,” to the man, I said, “There it is!!!!!” He excitedly turned around to see what I referring to. He watched me walk in a trance of pure love and delight toward the painting. I looked back at him and smiled. He walked forward and joined me in a moment of appreciation.
I don’t know how long he stood with me as everything and everyone in the world no longer existed in those moments. Nothing moved or breathed except me. I bobbed up and down in a sea of appreciation.
Here it was. The work that I had seen years before with a heart so broken I feared it would never find its way back together. The work that felt like family, as it had captured for me in every stroke of the brush, my past, present, and future. The traveler, the seeker, the creator, the dreamer with just enough light to find her way.
Guided by the horizon’s edge to move forward in a world that had grown dark.
The painting, then, had been the salve for my ragged soul. It promised me that I already had everything I needed for the next part of my journey. That I could withstand loss and grief and transmute the entire, swirling mess into something beautiful.
That day in the Orsay years ago affirmed me to me. To see the work again from the vantage point of having crossed the waters of uncertainty and fear gave me the courage to find a new frontier of being in the world with nothing held back.
I whispered a prayer of thanks to Alexander Harrison, the artist. He had reached across time to tell me of his dreams and the soulful solitude that fueled him. A message that transcended time and space, not unlike the light from the stars over our heads that left on their journey toward us millions of years ago.