In the Flesh


I learned in school what an important work the Mona Lisa is. There are numerous technical reasons why this is so. There are emotional reasons, too.

But I always thought it was ugly. To me many of da Vinci’s other works were more profound and beautiful.

Then I took a trip to Le Louvre to see it in person.


The true colors do not come through in any rendering of it I’ve ever seen. And they are sublime. The emotive subtlety of the brush strokes is lost in translation. The depth created by the shadows painted into the canvass is compressed. It is…not really the same work until and unless you see it in the flesh. You have to experience it.

It IS beautiful. It is deeply thought provoking, and I feel fortunate to have stood there in awe of it that day.

Likewise we hear about amazing or bad individuals. We encounter and get to know people regularly. We think we know something about who the important ones are. We don’t really know anything. It is only when you fully experience a person that you come to understand the relief of their particular canvass. Hardly anyone knows anyone intimately enough to get much past the surface, but without a doubt you don’t even have a clue until you get to know the things that aren’t apparent. The deep stuff. To walk in their shoes in good times and bad as they crawl out burned from their struggles or pull others along as they fly high when it may only look easy. You can choose whether or not to get to know someone deeply — truly, profoundly deeply — but don’t fool yourself. You can’t just juxtapose who you think they are on top of the sensibilities you already have and believe you get them. You have to give yourself up first.

For the most part we get by with our relatively shallow understanding of others…until the stakes or involvement gets high enough. Take marriage: our culture encourages us to marry someone before we truly know the depths of who they are. Indeed we often don’t even know who we are yet. We say the right things about taking it slow and being sure, but there are many messages in our culture that encourage us to get on with it. Then we are told to make the best of things.

Mona Lisa (Lisa del Giocondo *) was a mother of five married to a silk merchant who was many years her senior. She was his third wife. They purportedly were together and faithful until their deaths. In fact her pose in the painting, with right hand over left, is a way to illustrate this. Most people couldn’t care less about her, and the few who do are interested only because of the painting. Which raises the question…

What makes us want to truly know someone? What makes us want to know enough to risk ourselves in the process? When do we know? And finally, what about the process? The richness of discovering the layers one by one. It can be quite a journey, but you can’t really go there unless you are willing to expose your own flesh. Face to face. Eye to eye. Heart to heart. You have to let it all go before you can see.


* The author recognizes the identity of the woman is disputed. Nevertheless this version is generally accepted among historians.

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