Judy and I met on the first day of our semester as Freshmen in the beige study lounge at Bucknell University. She was simply thrilled to begin her journey as a college student. Even though I had spent the last years navigating through a public school system in New Jersey, my English reading skills were still limited. I needed to get ahead on my readings assignments. We were the only two students in the study lounge in the waning days of the summer of 1979.
I remember it being a bright, sunny day. At Bucknell, with its manicured lawns in between pristine Georgian buildings, and with Frisbees flying all about, we were asked to live out a kind of ideal of modern college liberal arts education. But I was keenly aware that I was one of the few minorities in my freshman class. As beautiful as the setting was, and as exciting as the future seemed to be, I felt very much alone in this perfect portrait, exiled on the edges of that ideal. On darker, snowy winter mornings, chickadees danced in the maples near the graveyards in between the Field House and the town of Lewisburg, and I walked alone toward the "Art Barn," where I would end up spending most of my time developing my art. I had bouts with depression, serious doubts about my abilities, and I had to go to the infirmary several times for stress-related symptoms. Yet what I do remember the most remains bright like that first day. It was meeting a pony-tailed girl with freckles. That certainly brightened my countenance, and I wanted, immediately, to befriend her.
As Judy tells the story (which she loves to do), I was rather aggressive in seeking her hand. As I recall, I had an internal compass toward her that told me that I could be straightforward with her in a way that I had not mustered, in my many shy attempts in the past, with other girls. But fortune, happenstance, gave me an upper hand - we were kicked out of the study lounge together. A student group needed to have a meeting, so they politely told us of another place to go. Judy got up and left. I somehow missed the directions they gave, so I looked around the rooms on the same floor. When I finally found her, we were still the only two people in the room.
"So this is where you ended up," I said, not knowing if she would respond to that at all.
"Hi, I am Judy, Judy Beebe," she said, and she shook my hand and put her yellow marker down. "Nice to meet you . . . are you a freshman?"
"Yes"- and I remember telling her something about how I needed to get going on my books because of soccer tryouts, etc. I can't recall what exactly she said then.
I only know that the next scene was me trying to decide whether to try to get her phone number.
I hesitated, and sat down to read, trying to focus on the thick psychology book I just purchased at the bookstore; when I looked up, she had already left the room. Regretting not noticing that, I too left the room to go back to my dorm. I was fortunate; I caught a glimpse of her ponytail as she walked up the hills to the freshman dormitories.
"Hey, Judy?" I stopped her. I did ask for her telephone number. And I called her that evening, with my hands trembling.
The first date was, of course, a frat party, with disco balls spinning, with the Bee Gees playing. After a while, I asked her if she'd like to take a walk. I did not like the party scene that much, being highly introverted. She lit up and said, "I'd like that very much."
As we walked about the campus near Lewisburg, toward the Susquehanna River, warm balmy winds enveloped the night. The streetlights came on, and I walked on the street, and she began to walk on the raised edges of the walkway. I was taller than her by several inches, but walking on that curb, her eyes were level with mine. I do not recall what we talked about on that first walk. But I remember the ease I had in my heart speaking with her; I could tell that Judy saw me differently than any girl had seen me in the past. She allowed me to come inside her mind and reside in her heart, as natural as breathing, without any prejudice whatsoever.
The Beebe family lived in Woodbury, New Jersey, a Quaker town outside of Philadelphia. Judy's father was the head of human resources for a major bank.
When I visited her family in the spring, she introduced me to her parents, three brothers, and her cats, in their old Victorian home. Her brother Kevin was a basketball player and the house seemed have a revolving door-his many friends were always coming and going. I realized then something extraordinary about the Beebes: races and cultural differences did not even occur to them as something to bother with. The Phillies, the Eagles and the 76ers, yes. But the fact that I was Japanese was nothing more than a mild curiosity-no more than if I was from Hawaii or California. What they wanted to know was if I rooted for any New York teams, being from north Jersey. That, I could tell, was more challenging for them to swallow.
I went home to north Jersey and started to watch basketball, trying to learn about the 76ers.
Sports is an American religion, and the movie Silver Linings Playbook takes that theme a bit further as it explores the struggles of the main character's bipolar disorder, the dysfunctional patterns of a family, and remnants of grace in small outlier towns around Philadelphia. Judy and I saw the film a few weeks after Jennifer Lawrence won an Oscar for her performance in it (and tripped as she climbed the steps to receive her Academy Award). After seeing the film, Judy noted, as a psychotherapist, how accurately it depicts the characters' struggles, and the details of "Iggles" fanatics. In one scene, the brothers get in a fight defending an Indian group of fans, which includes the main character's therapist. They stand up for the Indian contingent, and get in a messy fight to protect them from bigotry.
Silver Linings is all about the unexpected overlaps between sports and the art of dance. It's about how art, even at an entry level, can profoundly change how we view each other, transcend boundaries, and give us a vista toward the future. So many movies of recent times have been specifically about the overlap of arts and life-about the difficulties of that, and how it is a backdrop for human drama.
Witness The Artist, Quartet, Ruby Sparks, The Secret of Kells, The Tree of Life, Argo, etc., etc. Even Lincoln can be seen from the perspective of the arts; Lincoln's oratorical art (apparently affected by the poetry of Whitman) matched Lincoln's tenacity to abolish slavery, and his ardent and consistent presence at Ford Theatre gave Booth an easy target. The LIfe of Pi, the magnificent visual spectacle by Ang Lee, is a ritualized visual language of a survival journey. Art, represented as imaginative vision borne upon a castaway boat, is the main character, and it points toward the possibility of God.
The arts can turn a social ritual, even a secular liturgy, into a vessel of deeper communication. Art can be generative, in that the response of the audience should be a journey toward creativity and thriving. As in the dance scene in Silver Linings Playbook, the arts can bring even football fanatics into common patronage, a place where broken souls and a struggling family can find healing and meaning. Silver Linings is a well-written, splendidly acted movie, and it mediates our broken journeys. The media of film should mediate. But, unfortunately, entertainment these days is oriented more toward "15 minutes of fame" than toward the creation of a noble entity worthy of enduring conversation. If any film rises above the typical short-lived existences, it should be highlighted, and we should indeed stumble up the steps of fame to spotlight that effort. Art does not need to be elitist, and we should consider the gap between the art and the audience to be the greatest symptom of an anemic culture, and applaud the excellence that our communities can bring, whether on the screen or in a museum.
The arts are also linked with justice. This sense of justice, imbedded throughout the story of Silver Linings, is part of our dance with beauty. In her seminal book Beauty and Being Just, Dr. Elaine Scarry of Harvard elucidates the connection between art and justice, drawing direct connections about how our awareness of our beauty should lead us toward justice:
One can see why beauty-by Homer, by Plato, by Aquinas, by Dante-has been perceived to be bound up with the immortal, for it prompts for a search for a precedent, which in turn prompts for a search for a still earlier precedent, and the mind keeps tripping backward until it at last reaches something that has no precedent, which may very well be the immortal. And one can see why beauty-by those same artist, philosophers, theologians of the Old World and the New-has been perceived to be bound up with truth . . . beauty, sooner or later, brings us into contact with our own capacity for making errors.
Beauty, whether it be a gorgeous sunset or the awkward beauty of a couple striving to move beyond their challenges, can bring us "into contact with our own capacity for making errors." Beauty levels the playing field to conjoin what has been disjointed in culture; where there is true beauty, there is no room for prejudice. Prejudice is pre-judgment, a rush to conclude based on predetermined reductionism, a refusal to step outside of one's comfort zone. "You never really understand a person, " Atticus Finch tells us in To Kill a Mockingbird, "until you consider things from his point of view--until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." Beauty of that empathetic act arrests prejudgment and opens our awareness, making us vulnerable to change, transformation and sacrifice.
Judy's father was one of the first human resource leaders to fully implement affirmative action principles in a major bank. He also championed servant leadership in the office. He was so successful that he took his retirement package early. A white male in his early 50s was no longer a sought-after candidate for upper management. He took this change in the culture of business, away from prejudice into equality, with pride. He retired at 55 and moved to Leesburg, Florida, where he and his wife became pillars of the Leesburg Arts Center - and he also started a singing career, singing in retirement homes and churches.
That arts center has a number of interns who are students at Beacon College, an innovative local college for students affected by Attention Deficit Disorder. The arts center holds summer classes for local children who cannot afford art or music classes, and it holds arts festivals which involve motorcycle bikers who gather for their conventions in that area, or for B.A.S.S. pro fishing tournaments at Harris Lakes, which Leesburg is known for. When the Beebes moved to Leesburg, the arts center was just a small gathering of locals, and the town was becoming dilapidated. Judy's father took leaders of the towns on a tour to other cities to learn "best practices" and learn about how the arts can rejuvenate a small town. Now the Leesburg Arts Center, with its vibrant executive director, Amy Painter, leads the way of these "best practices."
A town that honors the arts will attract all cultural forms, and even may expose our common errors of the past. In some ways, what was transgressive to the norm when Judy was so open to me when we met all those year ago was not just that she did not consider race a barrier-but that she was dating an artist, an identity that I was finding myself more and more to be. She was, perhaps, attracted to that, and had been prepared for it by her upbringing in an entrepreneurial, creative family.
Judy and I got married in a small Catholic church in south Jersey. The wedding was officiated by Judy's uncle, who is a priest. The Beebe family calls him "Uncle Father," and when they still lived in south Jersey, after Sunday services he would come over to watch the games. Uncle Father loves culture; he has travelled to Europe many times, and is one of just a few of the Beebe clan who likes European cheese and wine. He took an interest in my art starting with my earliest exhibits. The last time I visited him in his mobile home in south Jersey, I noticed he has framed two of my earliest exhibits' invitations in Japan, and created a corner in his room dedicated for my art.
We moved after our wedding to Storrs, Connecticut, for Judy to begin her graduate work for a master's in family therapy. The Beebes apparently are related to the Storrs. There is a Congregational church at the entrance to the University of Connecticut campus that the Storrs family attended. When Judy's uncle visited us, we took photos in front of the church. We walked about the Storrs campus, whose barren trees and utilitarian buildings were nothing like the lush surroundings at Bucknell. Judy began her studies at U Conn Storrs in the same year that the school hired an unknown coach named Jim Calhoun to resurrect a struggling basketball program. After many a national championship, the Storrs campus is now completely overhauled. Basketball, after all, can be an economic juggernaut to a school and a small town. The "March Madness" of NCAA tournaments is a common tongue spoken at the Beebes' family gatherings, and this year, Uncle Father and Judy's family lavished their attention on the unprecedented advance of their team, the La Salle Explorers. It's no coincidence, in my mind, that Matthew Quick, the author of Silver Linings, went to La Salle and taught high school in south Jersey.
On humid dog days at Bucknell, to which I returned one summer to take creative writing classes, I had conversations with a dorm-mate from my freshman year. He would ask me what I planned to do with my life. I told him that I had found myself drawn to being an artist, and that even if I couldn't make a living at it, it was a call that I could not ignore. "I know what you mean," he said, in his slick basketball warm-up outfit. "I'm not a top level basketball player, but I know I can be a top level coach. That's what I want to do with my life." His name was Jay Wright. He would go on to become one of the most respected coaches in college basketball at Villanova, and a nemesis of the La Salle Explorers. Judy's family would wince at that, but then forgive me for my enthusiasm for Jay's team, just as easily as they have forgiven me for rooting for the Yankees.
The Langone Student Center where Judy and I met was designed by Minoru Yamazaki, the architect of the now-destroyed World Trade Towers. The facade of the student center has three arches, complementing-but modernizing-the campus's Georgian architecture. It is a strange coincidence that the same architect who framed the student center where Judy and I met was also the architect of towers that would cast darker shadows over our lives. We would end up as TriBeCa residents, and the destruction of the Trade Towers building on 9/11 would redefine our lives. I would follow in Yamazaki's footsteps to become the second Japanese-American citizen to serve on the National Council on the Arts.
I spent the last decade mulling over, in my works, the effect of such devastation. I have pursued "the still point" through Eliot, and entered the "dark woods" of Dante. I did a series of paintings based on the Four Quartets, and then "Water Flames" based on Dante. I have pursued what Eliot called his "compound ghosts," which I infer to mean not only his sense of the influence of the past, but also of the ontology of creativity in the present, and even, possibly, a sense of how it all might reverberate in the future. All these haunt me. It has always been Judy who has guided me out of my depression, and led me into spiritual vitality. She is truly my Beatrice. Just as she left the room before me on that first bright day at Bucknell, I seem always to have been a step behind, chasing after her, calling her name. Thus, as I recently mulled over a comprehensive thesis of my approach to culture, I began to compare my approach to wholeness with Judy's therapeutic language. What I call Culture Care (a term that my editor, Caleb Seeling, coined) is developed around Judy's language in psychotherapy (http://www.judycares.com). Our journey continues now in a farmhouse north of Princeton. We are co-creating in different spheres, but our common tongue began in that study lounge at Bucknell University.
Mediation of culture happens even in the midst of calamities, like the Ground Zero conditions in what used to be our backyard in New York City. For us, it began in the bucolic peace of that Lewisburg campus under the three arches of Yamazaki's design. What Judy and I have experienced-the meeting of two very different people of different backgrounds-and what we continue to experience-is a Silver Linings Playbook being played out in our marriage, refracting all over our lives. As we navigate these complex and sinister days, our hearts torn between false loves and faded devotions, we still see that the familiar, the tender, the ideal of entrepreneurial family, can be home to a cultural exile who felt so awkward getting a phone number.
In Nihonga, silver is a symbol of humanity, since it will oxidize and tarnish over time. Silver also represents the beauty of sacrifice, of things passing away. So silver linings would be impermanent, and ephemeral. There is beauty in fading, and in decaying, too. We live, and move forward; perhaps silver linings point to the substance of things hoped for, residing within the impermanent "still points" of the storms of life. Our common journeys rarely lead us to the perfections of Georgian architecture, but more often we see that perfection turned into the dust of Ground Zero conditions. Yet, in that humanity, we can behold each other in our imperfect dance, and the arts can reveal our longings. Like an awkward pause between novice dancers, the arts expose our errors and help us to become fully human.
I am glad I made that call the evening of the first day of college.