Recently, I visited my uncle, Cabot Lyford, near Portland, Maine. Cabot is well-known in New England as an artist and sculptor of stone, wood, and bronze. He’s in his late-80s and has retired from sculpturing due to health. Also fairly recently, a film was released about him as part of an ongoing series of film portraits of distinguished Maine artists, Dale Schierholt’s “Cabot Lyford: Portrait of a Man as Artist”. On my visit, I had a chance to share my appreciation for him and my thoughts on the advent of the film. The letter below is my follow-up to him in response to that visit.
July 6, 2014
My Dear Uncle,
It’s been two weeks since seeing you last in Damariscotta. On our brief visit, I attempted to express my appreciation for you and for the honor being given you in the form of Dale Schierholt’s new film, “Cabot Lyford: Portrait of a Man as Artist”. This letter is the result of collecting and refining my thoughts since then which I’d like to share with you now.
Wise people have said we communicate the things we most need to learn. Something increasingly important to me lately is the acknowledgment of value—the core value of oneself and of others—a past and present focus for me.
Two weeks ago I felt I didn’t adequately express two things to you. First is how wonderful and appropriate this film is in tribute to your work. Second is my sense of the significance to you, and to all of us who have experienced your work, of the aspiration you realized early in your career to achieve something beautiful, meaningful, and lasting.
The wonderful appreciation being expressed to you now in the form of Schierholt’s film is an acknowledgment of how you have enriched the lives of so many people with your work. I see the value of such a film and couldn’t agree more with the sentiments behind it. You may already have opened your heart to this acknowledgment. You may have let it in fully. But if you do have resistance to feeling the acknowledgment the film expresses, then releasing that resistance will open your heart to a healing effect impacting you and everyone whose lives you have touched (and there are many). It can’t help but be so.
To me to aspire to be a conduit for the expression of enduring beauty and meaning is not arrogant but is what greatness is made of. By “great”, I mean someone who has added profound value to the world. Seeing your work recognized for its value, my thought is, “Rightly so—well-deserved, well done!” Your life’s work enriches our lives in amazing ways. Consider the countless students you taught and inspired during your time at Exeter, and how they’ve gone on to do the same for others. Have you added meaning and had an impact in the world? Most certainly! You chose to be the instrument of that value and the world is better for it.
Are you ready to see your own value? Not your worldly or financial value, but your inner core value that comes from something beyond your physicality, beyond your feelings and emotions, beyond even your thoughts, but is nonetheless characteristically you. This thought may seem misplaced if you see life as atheistic. Maybe seeing life as atheistic is the only thing that made sense because of all the shit that goes on. Are we not at the mercy of some of that shit? How could there be a God of Love when the world can contain such inhumanity and horror? And yet you, Cabot, are one small step from seeing the illusory nature of what we call reality—illusory because we, humans, have created our world in the image of our thoughts; illusory because we can actually control our lives as opposed to how it seems that our lives control us. Through the power of free will, we have powerful minds and powerful thoughts, and where we focus them brings us the fruits of our focus, even if that focus is on the lower nature of human pursuits. Everyone creates according to what they focus on.
Fueled by your vision, you chose to create out of stone and wood. The beauty you have wrought in the world was created twice—first in your mind and then materially. You have talked about how you let the natural form of the medium, whether wood or rock, determine the meaning and outcome of the piece. But where did that meaning or essence of the final form originate? What spoke to you conveying that form? Who listened to that voice? You did—the highest essence of you—the part of you that can understand and connect with true perfection. Who had the aspiration to engage such vision? You did, as a sentient being expressing through your actions your vision of something others would not or could not see until you gave it the form you saw in your mind’s eye. You created it in your mind imbued by your vision, and then created it in physicality. You invited in the creative intelligence to bring into being something that wasn’t there before.
What is your core value—the part of you capable of the highest expressions of beauty, love, and joy? Some have called it the spark of God. Whatever you call it, it’s difficult to define and must be experienced. Once you experience it, no matter how fleeting, you realize—if you allow it—that you are more than your physicality.
Cabot, my letter to you is to celebrate your expression of your highest essence throughout your life. For a moment, forget about everything you hold about yourself that you see as less than your highest essence. Just let it go. What remains is amazing. Acknowledge your amazing self! Own it and accept it—not from any reference given you by anyone outside of you—not from any judgments you pronounced upon yourself—free yourself from those for a moment. Own, acknowledge, and accept your highest essence because you breathed life into your highest visions—you gave your highest essence its true voice and expression. That is a wonderful and beautiful thing worth celebrating.
Let nothing change, negate, or mute that part of you or your celebration of it. Let others celebrate it with you. Even if they don’t understand the wellspring of your vision but appreciate the results of your life’s work, they are part of the celebration of the highest essence of who you truly are. By expressing your highest vision, you have given everyone else permission to do the same. That also is worth celebrating. So Celebrate! You need do nothing else.