Norman Rockwell…and recognizing joy

Stockbridge General Store, Dec 26, 2011

I visited the town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts with my family earlier today. I’ve been there before, in the summer, and I wanted my wife to see the town synonymous with painter Norman Rockwell, the home of the Norman Rockwell Museum. Many of his most familiar works were painted in Berkshire County, in Western Massachusetts, so it’s a trip worth making. One of those “that building looks familiar” trips.

Anyway, the odd thing is, Norman Rockwell actually had a pretty sad life. He moved to Stockbridge in 1953 so that his second wife, his first marriage ending in divorce, could be treated at a psychiatric hospital nearby. He himself later received psychiatric treatment at the same facility, where he is reported to have told the renowned analyst Erik Erikson that he painted his happiness, but did not live it. His second wife died unexpectedly from a heart attack in 1959.

I find that amazing. That a man who struggled personally, who struggled with happiness, could paint pictures that so vividly capture joy…what does that say about the human spirit?

Doesn’t that argue that we all recognize joy, even if we don’t (at times) feel it? Maybe that’s what I love about the ocean. No matter how I feel, once I drop below the surface, I’m propelled into a world of amazement and respect; and out of that amazement, out of that respect, I start to feel joy. Genuine joy.

So say a prayer for Norman tonight, that his spirit has found the happiness, the joy, that he could not find while living. If he were alive, I’d offer to take him diving.

(Norman Rockwell died of emphysema in 1978)

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