Monday, November 8, 2010

Honor Is a Force Unto Itself

I am an artist. I paint. I sculpt. I make things for people to look at. If I do it right, in the looking, something happens to the person that makes them different for looking. When I write or blog; though, I find myself not writing about my work so much, but about the things that make me who I am. I think it is a round about way of talking about my art. Today's story is about a man who embodies honor. Often it probably seems to him, honor for honor's sake. He has lost so much and has experienced pain beyond which we can understand. Of his character, honor is one element which stays with him even when he doesn't know if it matters anymore. It does though. It moves the people around him, like a force of nature.

My friend Al, who I now call brother is a firefighter from NYC. If you haven't met a firefighter from NYC you are missing out on some of the finest character on the planet. Al was supposed to be at work on the day the towers fell. By chance, he was not. When he saw the news on the television his first instinct was to race at over 100 miles per hour down an empty highway to rescue or be with his fallen comrades. There was nearly no one to rescue. He asked me one night while I was working on the Engine 6 sculpture if I could imagine losing 30 of the closest people in the world to me - I simply said no, I could not.

As the faces of the Engine 6 sculpture continued to take shape, and I worked my way down to Paulie's hand, my aged mentor Laszlo Ispanky visited. In an inspired moment I blogged about earlier, Laszlo cut the lifeline into the firefighter's hand. I told that story to Al and he smiled. I could tell it meant a great deal to him. I still didn't know what 'honor' was though. I was learning this by being in his presence.

Four years later, almost to the month. My mentor died after living a full life. His sculptures circle the globe. He has honored actors and sports figures, politicians and world leaders - works collected by a sitting US President, the Pope and more. When he died, though, at such an old age there were few there to honor the man. I was asked to give the eulogy. On my way to the church a thought occurred to me. I thought, he worked on Paulie's hand, I should tell Al I'll be honoring him that morning. I texted Al. In a few minutes he texted me back 'Go slow to give me time to be there.'

I delivered my eulogy, slowly. I thought there was no way Al could make it - being over an hour away. Why would he? How would he? Delivering the words, I kept glancing to the back of the small church - no sign of him. My eulogy ended, the service ended. Laszlo's ashes were being brought out to the waiting limousine. The doors slowly opened. As the sun broke into the chapel I caught its' glint off a white hat. As I moved closer I saw the striking figure of my friend and brother, Al. He was standing there in full dress, saluting the ashes of my fallen mentor as they were carried to the limousine.

Honor is a force unto itself. It transcends a person and it moves and shapes the world. Why was Al there? Because Laszlo sculpted the hand of his fallen brother. This incredible artist who I thought should have the equivalent of a state funeral for all the work he's put into the world had something far better, something I couldn't have conceived of before that day. He had a man of honor, saluting him on his final journey.

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