Right now, at this very moment, I am about to type words that I never thought I would put out into the world. Here I go. I feel a great big wave of compassion for George W. Bush.
Yesterday in the New York Times I read about an exhibition of portraits by W. that is opening in Dallas today. As I scrolled down through the article, my jaw dropped and my heart thudded. I actually began to cry.
When George W. Bush was in office, and troops and bombs were descending on Afghanistan and Iraq, I used to practice lovingkindness meditation. The idea of this meditation is that you begin by visualizing someone you love easily, and you send them more love and whatever positive emotions you want. “May you have love, may you have peace, may you have freedom.” Then you widen your circle, visualizing someone about whom you feel neutral — the checkout girl at your local grocery store, for example, or someone you passed randomly on the street. Lastly, you open even wider, even if it’s challenging, and visualize someone with whom you are having trouble, or even someone you despise. I regularly, perhaps even religiously, visualized Bush. I tried, with every ounce of my roiling brain and fractured antiwar heart, to send him love and peace and freedom. It was really, really, challenging. But I tried.
But yesterday, my heart opened, and I didn’t even try.
I have been reading a book called The Element: How Finding your Passion Changes Everything, by Ken Robinson. I am reading it for myself, after all these years, and also for my children, because I do not want it to take them as long as it has taken me to find the thing that makes them come alive. The thing that enables them to meet the world with a wide open heart on fire. When I read that story about W., I saw myself, my own searching, my own confusion, in him. That is something that I never imagined would be possible.
He paints three or four hours per day, evidently. He paints portraits of Putin and the Dalai Lama, he paints self-portraits, he paints his dog, he paints semi-nudes. He has an art teacher at SMU. He can “linger in art exhibits for hours at a time studying brush strokes and color palettes.”
I do not feel like critiquing Bush’s art (which one critic called “primitive and amateurish,” akin to his presidency). I do not feel like investigating the privilege that enables him to have a major exhibition, while brilliant and passionate artists, many of them from structurally damaged communities, struggle to make ends meet and manifest their dreams in a society that has structurally damaged the existence of art itself. (To say that art is “undervalued” is, in my opinion, an understatement.)
What I feel like saying is that this story about Bush making art makes me think about all the expectations, the particular mental and emotional prisons, with which he must have grown up. It makes me think about all the ridicule and vitriol he had to endure while President (including a considerable dose from me). And it makes me think that all this time, through all the rollicking privilege of his own life, and the turbulence and violence that his choices have brought down on others, probably (like many of us) he has never been able to see clearly, to rest in his own body, to find what he was born to do. It seems obvious now. He was a bad President because there was an empty place, a murky hunger, in his heart.
It opens a door for me, to think of Bush painting three or four hours a day. It makes me see, finally, that he is human, and that makes me feel some degree of peace inside.
I feel like I have a heart wide open and on fire.