Lessons from Michelangelo

David, by MichAfter twenty years or so, my growing collection of hard drives has bits and pieces of old material hidden away in odd places. I opened one of those odd places today and found a short piece I’d searched for while writing a recent related post about Michelangelo. I wrote the original piece for a newsletter. Don’t be fooled by the third-person parable form; it is a true account of personal experience. The story follows, unchanged from the 1982 original:
One day when Laurie was visiting Guru, he told her a fable about a small boy who asked Michelangelo how he was able to carve a horse out of a solid block of marble. The maestro explained that it was quite simple. He looked at the block, saw the horse inside, and chipped away all the marble that did not look like the horse.
Another day Laurie saw Guru again and, in the course of their conversation, she told him how a mutual friend had, for the avowed purpose of helping her become a better, more successful person, used her as the dumping ground for a tremendous amount of anger and frustration. Even though Laurie had realized that nearly all this anger was expressed at the self-image reflected in the mirror of her face, it still hurt, and a huge gap grew between them.

After a time she did learn some lessons from the experience, more valuable than the ones her friend had intended, and the traumatic memory became a source of strength. Her wound healed, and their friendship was renewed, growing even stronger than before.

Guru listened intently. When she finished, he nodded his head a bit sadly, saying, "I'm happy for you, my dear, but there are always scars..."

His response did not feel quite right, and she thought for a minute. Then she reminded him of Michelangelo's horse and explained that she had no scars. Quite the contrary. In this process, several chunks of marble which had not been part of her true form had been knocked off.

Guru had been right, as far as he went. There were scars. And they remained as long as she continued to feel angry, bitter, and vengeful. The scars were part of the marble which kept her from being fully herself, and once she was able to forgive the friend who inflicted them, those chunks fell away. She emerged, able to move ahead more freely and rapidly with the lightened load.

Like Laurie, we all move around under the weight of chunks of marble we haven't lost yet. For some the chunks may be made of anger and bitterness like they were for her. For others they may be fear, feelings of despair, or self-imposed limitations. They are always attitudes or beliefs, and they always slow us down, keeping us from being all that we could be. We can continue to carry them around, or we can allow them to drop away. The choice is always there, and it is ours to make.
As I recall, I wrote a few unsent letters before those chunks of marble fell away, so a type of journaling was part of the insight process, and a precursor to this story. I’m happy I found this file, because it’s an example of one of my early forms of published life writing, composed before self-disclosure was accepted form. It documents an important life insight, and it illustrates the versatility of life writing. I still like the parable form I chose, because it gracefully accommodates the generalization at the end.

Write now: experiment with writing a short memory in parable form, or as a short story using third person and an assumed name. Contrast that with the same story written in first person as your own experience. If you belong to a writing group, ask for input on the strengths and weaknesses of each form. If you’re looking for a(nother) writing group, you are welcome to join the Life Writers’ Forum. We don’t post much writing, but we have great discussions about writing.

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