Yesterday, I received a gift when a friend and former colleague of Frank’s shared something he had written about him.
Jon Kolko is an artist and design strategist with a particular interest in humanizing educational technology. In this piece he talks about a concept that Frank taught him – simplicity on the other side of complexity – that has resonated with him and continued to inform his work and teaching. I won’t go into detail about it here, because Jon says it so much better than I could, and I hope you will click on the link and read what he wrote. What I will talk about, though, is the gift. Reading Jon’s writing, I could only conclude that the energy that used to occupy the form of my brother is still alive and well and changing the world for the better.
I used to be under the impression that my ideas originated with me, but over time my perspective has shifted significantly. I now see myself as a sort of Reiki master for ideas. Information and energy come my way, and go through some alchemical change in my brain that causes them to take new form, and then I release them. I don’t create the energy, nor do I end it; I am a channel that transforms it. The transformation process is a mystery to me. I get the sense that ideas and experiences and knowledge are like tinder that comes our way on the wave of energy, and we, live things, provide the spark that ignites it. In the fire, each unique tinder pile turns into something new and important, and the energy is released and continues on.
Jon reports that Frank got his idea from a quote from Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: "For the simplicity that lies this side of complexity, I would not give a fig, but for the simplicity that lies on the other side of complexity, I would give my life." My grandfather, Frank T. Lyman Sr. (second from right in the photo), began work as a page in the Supreme Court at the age of 13 and served Justice Holmes among others (a Washington Post story about him can be found here). I wonder if that connection was somehow part of the tinder pile for my brother.
The more I think about this, the more connections form in my mind. At nearly every yoga class I take with Amy Witmyer at Sacred Space, she reminds us that we are “energy moving through form.” I thought I understood it before, but it has new clarity now. Thinking about it reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from Martha Graham:
There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique… It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.
Frank was a born master at keeping the channel open. The revelation to me is that somehow his channel is still open. Energy from all of his tinder fires is still on the move.
My father had a friend named Todd Marrone who was a talented and beloved artist in the Philadelphia area. He died, too soon, in December of 2013. Something he said on his website struck me months ago and I’ve been tossing it around in my mind. Suddenly it fits perfectly on today’s tinder pile:
A thing does not end, nor begin, with the maker. Things are consumed, produced and consumed again within an aesthetic ecosystem. I nudge my work, encourage it, steer it but I don’t make it from scratch nor do I individually own it. It doesn’t just create a dialogue, it is a dialogue. I am a participant in the conversation. A thread in the tapestry. A rung in the ladder.
I know that not every person who has died left a legacy of written ideas, works of art, and expressive colleagues the way my brother and Todd have. But I am firmly confident that every lost loved one has energy that continues to spark tinder. How can we tap into it? Maybe we can talk to others who know the ones we miss, read things that they wrote, look at photographs if we can, find things that they treasured, cook and eat things they loved, remember and share experiences we shared with them. Maybe you have other strategies to share, and I hope you will. We can continue the conversation, and build the ladder higher and higher, if we keep the channels open.