The Henry was delighted to host a Hugo House workshop during winter quarter. This is the second story we have received from the class, you can read the first here.
Many thanks to the Henry for hosting our Hugo House class for a third time! – Anca Szilágyi, Hugo House Instructor
A piece inspired by the Henry exhibition Katinka Bock: A and I
The Bodhisattva of the Sea by Jenelle Birnbaum
Enshrined in a temple made of glass resides an enchanted sculpture. Shaped by life, a piece of driftwood, cracked and darkened with age, rests on an equally tarnished steel beam. The local townspeople refer to the sculpture as the Bodhisattva of the Sea.
High on her perch over the town, she watches, spreading her preternatural calm over the village below. Crowds gather to feel the serene energy she emanates; townspeople write her letters seeking wisdom, hoping her calm is contagious. Yet, as much as she is a part of the town, no one knows her origin. Her creation remains a subject of local lore.
Some attribute her birth to a great tidal wave. They say that before the wave, the wood and steel lived as a couple of local healers – the wood personifying the feminine; the steel the masculine. The pious couple tried to live by example, shunning materialism, desire and malice. The rest of the town, either joyfully oblivious or lazily stubborn, continued their misguided ways. The gods tried to intervene, asking the healers to deliver warnings. When that failed, the deities sent a series of plagues to cause deprivation. Droughts to ruin their crops, wildfires to destroy the once abundant food sources. Yet, the town, too obstinate to believe the punishment resulted from their excesses, carried on as before. Exasperated, the gods sent a giant tidal wave to destroy the corrupt town. To commemorate the devout couple’s lives, they were immortalized as a sculpture, a beacon towards which the town’s next generation could orient their lives.
Another popular tale tells of love gone wrong. Man and woman fell in love; woman was betrothed to another. Just as she was putting on her wedding dress, an empathetic god intervened, transforming the almost bride into a piece of driftwood and her love into a steel beam. Arranged as a graceful sculpture, blessed with an eternity spent together, they’ve become a modern totem of love.
The town’s most spiritual believe that a creature as ethereal as she could only be the incarnation of the soul’s journey through life. Put here to remind others that life is lived in layers. That these layers vacillate between joy and pain, that in the pain, pieces of our soul are chipped away. That in the calm between, we work to retrieve these misplaced pieces of our soul. The deep gouges and darkened stains on the wood, the swirling kaleidoscope of rust on the beam, remind us that there is beauty in the pain. That these times leave their mark just as deeply as the easier times, and perhaps even more so. For through the suffering we heal. We grow. What people so callously dismiss as blemishes, we call marks of character.
The bodhisattva’s understated beauty and graceful balance comforts the townspeople. For, like a bodhisattva, this supremely spiritual being remains among the people, guiding them through life, reminding them that there is light in the dark.
Wish you had taken the class? Check out this article series on writing prompts from Anca:Writing prompts on: Architecture Portraits Objects Overheard Conversation at a Museum