Tenderness in male form

LD: What burns in my heart so, that I must lay down, in phrases all my own, a picture of my life that I invite you to walk around in, absorb, live, almost as I have lived it?

And Now Miguel and I, Juan de Pareja, are two touching and rich stories of male perspectives, one during a pivotal twelfth year; the other, a lifetime. Each book takes us deeply into a living person’s outlook, an evocative and leisurely stroll through specific landscapes and landmarks that define each tender soul on its particular journey. We learn about distinct subjects which serve as the frames to hold the internal subject of human love in many forms. In And Now Miguel, sheep-herding is the external love; in I, Juan de Pareja, painting is the love form. In both stories, the role of religious custom and belief plays a large role in how love is contained, reconciled and embodied.

And Now Miguel captures the soul of a sensitive and thoughtful boy as he moves across the threshold of his childhood into early manhood through  observations of the family, sheep and mountains that make up his world. With language that is peculiarly boyish, fresh, and questioning, we begin to see a changing person who allows himself to feel and consider everything around him. He has a young boy’s way of knotting things up in trying to be bigger than he is. The same love that he shares with his siblings and parents is also shown to the mountains and sheep that demand so much from everyone. One of the great pleasures of the book was the way Miguel embodies the dignified love of caring for life in all its many forms, and how that is shown as a family legacy; his willingness to take on the burdens and responsibilities of this caring were the most moving parts, as he grows in his ability to carry them.  Miguel’s religious life supports him in his exploration of life’s mysteries, and takes him into a surprisingly profound conversation with his older brother Gabriel, who is leaving. This conversation marks Miguel’s final transformation in becoming his own person, as he comes to his own conclusions, by himself. The final stage, beginning his sheep-herding in the mountains with his uncles and father, is the external reflection of his internal maturity.

In I, Juan de Pareja, a more adult and detached voice tells the story, yet as a slave, Juan must speak from forced submission, which is similar to the restraints Miguel feels at being stuck between the very young and the grown. Juan’s perspective is always colored by slavery, yet he finds opportunity to love, serve and even feel free, due to his painter master, Diego Velazquez, and his master’s submission to the calling of art. The slave learns much from the master about painting and devotion, as does the master from the slave; love grows through simple devotion to their individual tasks. Here, too, Catholicism provides deep sustenance, as Juan and his master ride the unpredictable waves of life in 16th century Europe. Both slave and master exhibit acceptance, and devotion in life, showing the great capacity for love each man has.

These two books were written in very different times; it would be hard to imagine these books being written now. The sensibilities are from a previous era.

So, why must you enter my world? I suppose the searing heat of hammered change in a soul is felt to be so powerful, so large, I must tell you, so you can tell me by reading my words: Yes, I understand your journey.

Both Miguel and Juan tell stories of great change with dignity and grace. It is their tender sensibilities that allow them to accept and adapt to reality through loving perspectives, showing us the beauty in their own lives.  As Velazquez tells his apprentice,

“Art should be Truth; and Truth, unadorned, unsentimentalized, is Beauty.”

Both books were beautiful.

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