My roommate at Randolph Macon and I were really intense. And we went to some pretty intense movies. One of them was the movie Julia, with Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave. I only have impressions of the movie thirty years later, but the opening scene, when a voiceover explains “pentimento” has stayed with me all these years. According to the definition in Wikipedia, “a pentimento (plural pentimenti) is an alteration in a painting, evidenced by traces of previous work, showing that the artist has changed his or her mind as to the composition during the process of painting”.
The idea that a painting has layers of effort and retains traces of a regret or change of mind is quite lovely in my mind. It seems to me that life is like that as well. Layers of trying, and trying again, and trying one more time. We can’t quite erase the previous efforts; in a sense what is here and now is what is most real, or at least most accessible, but those other times of trying help give this moment depth and meaning it would otherwise lack.
I walked out of our house this evening for my evening ramble, holding hands with my daughter. School is out and tomorrow, she and her daddy are heading to Alabama to visit my mother-in-law. They will stay with our friends Cosby and Marsha, they will stop at Julia’s kitchen for a meal, they will sleep over in Crawfordville and visit with Sherod’s son and family. This isn’t the first time they have done this journey just as María and I have left the house on so many other evenings like this one, she walking me to the end of the block and then running back down the street to meet me when I call her on my way back home. There is nothing new in any of this, even though such fundamental changes have reshaped our family in this past year.
This picture in Wikipedia shows something of the haunting quality of pentimento—the past never gets erased, we bring our ghosts with us into our present and whatever the future may hold. Pentimento is derived from the Italian word for repentance (and in Spanish, the words is arrepentimiento—same origins, I’m sure). Walking with my girl tonight, helping her pack for her trip, her eyes bright with anticipation and happiness, of course there are some regrets that slip through my own happiness. But tonight, repentance is about the willingness to retrace our steps only to try again. The failures, even the grief, don’t have the last word though we could not erase them even if we tried.