The Big Question of Life.
Ever since my teenage years, the big existential questions of life have been at the centre of my interests. What is the purpose of life? Why do humans have consciousness? I join those who believe that these types of questions are closely related to the principal fact that humans are conscious of their mortality. Even so, I‘ve been able to simplify my questioning and the story that follows has inspired me and summarizes my conclusion quite well. I have recently seen the film “Maudie” for the third time. Based on a true story and beyond the simplicity of the characters, the last words just before the woman’s death are what have touched me so deeply.
If you don’t know the story, I will share in few words the extraordinary life of Maud Lewis. Born in Nova Scotia in 1903 she was named Maud Dowley. During childhood, she suffered from polyarthritis rheumatoid, which afflicted her for the rest of her life. After the death of her parents, from the age of 30 she lived with her aunt, who showed her no affection nor sympathy. At the age of 34, to find her freedom Maud took a leap of faith and applied to become a cleaning lady at Mr. Lewis’s house.
Himself a simple roaming fishmonger, at 40 years Everett Lewis lived alone, in poverty in a tiny 95-square-foot house and needed someone to take care of it. Maud had no work experience but had absolute determination. With a limp in her step and faith in her heart she walked to his house and knocked at Mr. Lewis’s door.
According to the story, Maud moved in with this grumpy bear, who had a sad childhood in a nearby orphanage. Determined to survive by herself, away from her unkind aunt, she preferred to be on her knees, washing this man’s cabin floor and care for him. As long as she kept his space clean and prepared meals for him, he would let her be.
Maud had no other tools to overcome her difficulties than her resilience and a few paintbrushes her mother had given her as a child. After a difficult interaction she had with Everett, alone in the small house, she picked up a paint brush, opened a can of paint she’d found in the closet and started to paint flowers on the wall just above the table where they sat to eat. Throughout the seasons, the little house became her canvas and her paint brush a magic wand. She transformed their sad and dark environment into a living and picturesque scene. The walls, the objects, the window, the door, everything became a means for her colourful expressions. “As long as I have a paint brush in my hand and access to paint, I’m happy,” she said.
With great simplicity, Maud paints scenes she remembers from her childhood. The bright colours she plays with slowly infiltrate Everett’s heart, melting away his cold ways with her, and they marry a few months after she enters into his life. Ironically, Maud presented herself with courage at his doorstep to care for his house, but it’s now he who cares for her while she paints. Because of grace and life’s fortuitous circumstances, she manages to sell her cards and paintings. Nationally known during her life, she is today one of the most worldwide renown Canadian folk artist. Their house has been preserved as a monument in the Nova Scotia Art Museum.
What is most touching about this story, other than the simplicity of the life they had lived, is what Maud said to Everett just before she died. Everett was beside himself with grief while blaming himself for not having cared for her with more attention. He felt guilty and responsible about the fact that she was dying. She looked at him and said: “Everett, I have been loved! I have been loved!”
Can the human heart be truly content? In the face of an abundance of exterior attractions, isn’t it increasingly difficult to feel contentment with the simple things of life? When I heard Maud utter these words to Everett to reassure him, “I have been loved” it’s as if she told him: “What else could you have done for me? You have loved me!”.
When all is said and done, once again I ascertain that love is the most important of all values. Love is what we want, what we desire and need the most. Love is at the reach of each one of us. Even though we’ve never received it, we can feel it and give it. Can I simply love and simply be loved? Can I give myself the love that I want to receive from others?
This couple had lived for thirty-five years in a house as big as a shoebox, without running water or electricity and even within these difficult conditions, they had known love. The big questions of life can be reduced to this simple question. The question of love.
So, I let myself be guided by this very simple question. Is love guiding me, motivating and inspiring me in my choices and in my actions? I have found that it is a radical way of eliminating a lot of false tracks and nuisances.
I know that when I’ll be close to my death and when I will ask myself these questions: “ Have I loved? Have I been loved? Have I let myself be loved?”. Yes, I know that I will be able to die in peace.
I wish this for you too.