“I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards.
I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made
reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees………Yet when I surveyed all that
my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless
a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”
King Solomon – Ecclesiastes 2:4-6,11
Have you ever met somebody who is uber talented, extremely good looking and wealthy to boot and they are complaining about some minor deficiency they possess? Did you find yourself having an unbridled urge to reach out and slap them? Come on. Admit it. You know you have. I felt that urge recently when I was reading a book about Leonardo Davinci entitled “Leonardo’s Horse.” In the book they describe Leonardo. He was (at age 30) handsome with curly blonde hair. He had a beautiful singing voice and could play musical instruments. He could juggle, ask riddles and stage elaborate plays. In addition to being an artist and musician he was an engineer, architect, philosopher and astronomer. Apparently however there was one project that dogged Leonardo to his dying day: the bronze horse. The Duke of Milan got it in his head to honor his father with a bronze horse to be placed in front of his palace. Leonardo wanted to be the man for the job, and was in fact recommended. Leonardo felt that this would be “his mark on history.”
Leonardo began his work. First he studied everything he could about horses. He made numerous drawings of them in various stages of movement. Then he collected 58,000 pounds of metal- tin and copper. Once the metals were heated they could be made into the bronze they would use to cast the horse. There was one little problem however. No one had ever made a single pour of anything that large. The horse was supposed to be 24 feet high. He completed a clay model of the horse and presented it to the Duke at a special celebration. The people of Milan were thrilled! Yet he put off casting because he had been commissioned to do another work. The new project: painting the wall of a convent with a depiction of The Last Supper. No big deal. Just another day in the life of Leonardo. Meanwhile the French do a nasty thing and invade Milan. All the metal that had been collected for the bronze horse had to be used for weaponry. Eventually Leonardo and the Duke flee and the French destroy the clay model horse Leonardo had left behind. The project was never completed.
It is said that Leonardo was haunted by this to his dying day. Apparently Michelangelo taunted him for starting a project he could not figure out how to complete. Leo should have brushed him off. Seriously, what the heck did THAT guy know anyway? The book says that Leonardo became depressed at the end of his life and wrote in one of his journals: “Tell me, if anything has been achieved by me. Tell me. Tell me…….I have wasted my hours.” To begin with, somebody should have told him to chill out and that the “Last Supper deal” was “pretty good.” Secondly, someone should have told him that the “Mona Lisa chick” was “pretty cool too.” Heck she’s even smiling her reassurance. It is striking that for a world class artist he lacked one thing: Perspective. If there should be one thing an artist knows about it is perspective. I guess Leo had it for his paintings, but not his life. Obviously he was aiming for some fame. Yet no one can say for sure what will make them “famous.” Some people ARE famous for great works of art. Some people are famous for destroying great works of art and being burned at the stake for it. (Read the history of the Temple of Diana). Some have decided that “if you can’t beat em’, destroy em’.” Seriously though I wondered if Leonardo could come to the end of his life and wonder if HE did anything of value, what hope do the rest of us have? Us mortals who walk on two feet. Us regular people who feel thrilled when we are able to make a play dough sculpture that sort of resembles Yoda. Who are ecstatic when our kindergarten finger painting gets chosen for display. Who marvel when we successfully make proper Rice Krispie Treats. Who delight when we learn to tie our shoes. For us regular mortals, the bar for achievement is a bit lower. That’s why I feel a strong urge to get violent when Leonardo is lamenting his life’s work. In truth none of us will be able to completely evaluate our “life’s work.” Our life’s work will continue to play out it’s effects long after we are gone. All of us probably will have a “bronze horse of regret” at life’s end. Something we wish we could have completed, but didn’t . One thing is true however, our lives do matter. (Even the lives of us regular mortals) and how we spend our time is crucial. Someone once said that “Character is the sum of our habits.” For some of us that statement is downright frightening. It is a wake up call. How do you spend your time? Since you have innumerable choices of things you can do, how do you chose what is infinitely most important so that when you come to the end you won’t feel you “wasted your hours?” God became man and answered this very question. When Jesus was being offered hospitality at the home of his friends Martha and Mary, Mary sat at his feet listening while Martha was “busy and distracted with many things.” Martha rebukes Jesus for not asking Mary to help her. Jesus rebukes Martha saying “Mary has chosen what is better and it won’t be taken from her.” Clearly God says some things in life do have greater weight and priority, the number one being spending time learning about who He is. We could for example spend a couple of hours watching T.V., or we could spend a couple of hours reading God’s word. Two choices, two weights, two outcomes. The difference between them is like say the difference between making a bronze horse and painting The Last Supper.
Life. It’s all in the perspective.
Reference: Jean Fritz, Hudson, Talbott, Leonardo’s Horse, (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2001)