Walking with determined hope

Walking Man II, Alberto Giacometti, 1960, bronze, 74 × 11 × 44 in. (© 2021 Alberto Giacometti Estate/VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ ADAGP, Paris)

This past October, my husband and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary with a quick two-night trip to Chicago. The trip was a big deal for us. We rarely celebrate our anniversary beyond a dinner out. Since COVID hit, we hadn’t been out together at all because babysitters and pandemics don’t mix. So, we set out for Chicago on an early train, giddy and giggly with excitement. It felt like a new beginning.

Arriving at Union Station, we still had a couple of hours before we could check in to our hotel. I suggested we tour the Art Institute of Chicago. We’d enjoyed the museum before as a family. Our teenagers appreciate art, but not for as long as their parents. It was a luxury to explore at our own pace, to not feel rushed, to linger in front of pieces that spoke to us.

I lingered the longest in front of Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti’s 1960 bronze sculpture, “Walking Man II.” I’d visited Giacometti’s Walking Man before. But art strikes us differently at different times. How we come to the art impacts how we experience it. The elongated, stretched figure, his mottled bronze surface, his determined lean, resonated with me in a
new way.

Giacometti’s bronze figures emerge from reworking his sculptures over long periods, building up a clay model, then stripping it down. He stripped and stripped until the figure’s body was gradually eroded to its essential, fragile core.

These past pandemic years feel as if they have stripped us to our most fragile and vulnerable selves. Our experiences have revealed the best and the worst of us. Pastors and teachers have shared that in many ways 2021 was more difficult than 2020. We emerged from forced isolation angry and irritable. Mandates protected us from the virus but eroded our social skills. If we were ever under the delusion that we were exempt from global problems, this pandemic proved how wrong we were, how vulnerable we are to disease and death. We walk into this new year more aware than ever of the difficulties and complexities of human life. Facing these truths has been exhausting and overwhelming. Like Walking Man II, we have been stripped of old defenses and stretched thin.

But hope is still here for us. Art scholar Jean Louis Prat wrote that Walking Man II “expresses all the difficulty of being, the complexity and unity of life … the dignity of a man facing himself, walking toward a new destiny, standing, facing hope.”

In this first issue of the new year we walk forward in hope, exploring the dignity of the whole human life. Julia Bennet, a student at Eckerd College, writes about what she learned about ageism from an intergenerational mentoring program led by her professor, Tamar Shavali (who also has an article in this issue.) Mark Hinds writes about finding purpose in retirement. Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty discusses the difficulties of those who straddle the “care gap,” who care for family members of different generations and different needs – older parents, siblings with mental illness, children – and how communities can support them.

These articles and their contributors help me (and I hope, you!) walk into this new year with a determined hope. Yes, we are fragile and stretched thin. But there is also dignity and beauty to be found in our human experience. There is more to be learned, more truth to be revealed. There are people who care and people seeking ways to care for others better. There is good reason to pause before Walking Man II to behold his forward stride, to appreciate his determined hope despite what he’s experienced. There is, simply put, good reason to be. Glory be to the God who grants us this new year of life and walks forward with us in hope.