Conversation is a vague art. Why, sometimes, does it come so easy and taste so good? Why, other times, does it fizzle out into remarks about the weather?
Last Friday I stood in the National Gallery of Art in the presence of Michelangelo’s David-Apollo statue, on loan from Italy. It seemed the artist’s spirit hovered in the room, surviving him by about 600 years.
The statue stood, rough but alive, unfinished. Its serpentine posture forced me to circle it to see each side. The white marble figure looked not only rough but also ambiguous. Did Michelangelo mean to make him David, or Apollo? He left the quiver on the statue’s back a mere rectangular block, and the ball beneath its feet showed symptoms of wanting to become the head of a decapitated Goliath. David-Apollo’s muscles almost heaved up and down with breath, but they also lacked fine detail. Who could know what the statue meant? The literature from the exhibit tugged at the mystery:
“This statue embodies a highly personal aspect of Michelangelo’s work—his habit of leaving sculptures incomplete. The results stimulate the imagination, as figures seem to emerge from the rough marble. … He apparently enjoyed the look of forms taking shape, born from the stone he loved.”
As I circled the statue, I wished I could possess all the artistic gifts and could adopt the euphoria of every trade. I wished I could make a David-Apollo half-emerge from a rock that would live centuries and make foreigners like me gasp.
I can’t sculpt. Maybe you can’t, either. But we both have opportunity to deliver to the world another art: The art of good conversation.
Sometimes history wakes up your heart by inviting you to its mysteries. It unleashes your wonder. In the case of Michelangelo and the David-Apollo, the quality of the art depends on his love for the stone and his fascination with the act of emerging.
Are you homesick for a good conversation? For a talk with someone who will know how to trace your life stories and find the true themes and feel wonder about the dignity God made you with? Are you homesick for a chance to turn around and do the same for someone else?
I have friends who marvel at the mystery of me, while I emerge from the stone. Or, I could say, while I am growing. Some friends excel at tracing my life-stories. They never demand that I speak as though I have already arrived and know precisely who I am. They let me live, and love me while I grow.
If we persist in terminal topics such as the weather at the expense of story-tracing, we will never let good conversation between two people live. Perhaps for good conversation, we need to love to see the emerging of our neighbors. Maybe we need to allow them to still be growing, to not have every detail just right.
For a conversation to taste as good as it can, it must possess a long subject. And the best conversations never end. You just keep plumbing their mysteries.