Over the weekend, in an effort to escape the heat, I spent an afternoon at the Rubin Museum. I was particularly taken by Bill Viola’s video called Three Women. I found it haunting. In the piece, three women of different generations emerge through a waterfall as if coming to life and then retreat behind it. In the video, the eldest woman emerges from behind the water, then the middle, followed by the youngest woman. Each emerges as if in her own time. In front of the water they are clear images, each individuals, though clearly related, sharing different facial features and colouring. Then the eldest woman turns and re-enters the waterfall, and she once again becomes a shadowy figure in black and white. She beckons to the younger women one at a time. And they follow her, taking on the vague, shadowy appearance of the elder woman. Led by the older woman, they hold hands, turn and walk away. We see each of the younger women turn towards us with longing as if they wish to let go and return to our side of the waterfall. It made me think about the idea of feeling emotionally alive when we are able to follow our own dreams and wishes.
I have been thinking about how hard it is to separate from our parents. The pull we feel to connect to the generations that preceded both them and us. We both long to stay connected and to feel loved by our parents. To belong. No matter how old we are. Sometimes this means that we end up following them to places we don’t really want to go. But we also have dreams for ourselves that may take us in different directions. Can we risk stepping out? Like the younger women in the video, longing to stay and leave at the same time. How do we live our own lives if we follow them where they want and need to go? How do we stay connected and separate at once? How do we lead our own lives and feel loved? Is it possible to hold the tension of both/and rather than giving in to either/or?
When I saw the video it was the longing that grabbed my heart – the sadness embedded in the longing. I wanted to encourage the younger women to let go and run. To tell the elder woman to let them go, to push them towards the viewers’ side of the waterfall. To help the younger women maintain their personhood, their aliveness by staying on this side of the waterfall. Leaving the eldest woman might be hard for the younger women; that might be sad, too. But a different kind of sad. A sadness made bearable by the aliveness of knowing that each exists as her own person.