Yesterday I was standing in Tate Britain looking at a painting by Henry Alexander Bowler, its full title being The Doubt: ‘Can these Dry Bones Live’. I took a picture, so that my rather porous memory would remember the work.
With a head full of all the lurid Philip Seymour Hoffman news; I suppose I was primed to respond to a painting that appeared to be about death. But then I read the accompanying text, and found it’s actually about resurrection; or rather hope.
The paintings title is a biblical quote from Ezekiel 37:1-3; Ezekiel had a vision that he was taken by God into the middle of a huge battlefield where thousands had been killed. He was shown a valley of bones. The meaning being: God offers hope to those living in their personal valley of dry bones.
Although the paintings prefix ‘The Doubt’ negates such certainty, it questions such faith. So, like millions of other people, having real trouble living through their personal valley of dry bones. Philip Seymour Hoffman, chose other ways to climb out of his.
Here’s a piece, that was supposed to turn into a book, but didn’t. It’s about my method of deliverance, back then:
Cleansed February, 2004
Winter caresses my nostrils; darkness is already closing in. People move like shadows in an Oriental play. On the unlit stretches of Parliament Hill they exercise dogs, and some like me, jog. Sweat freezes on the outside of my Helly Hansen shirt. It seeps through those polypropylene holes, that are supposed to mimic human skin. After 10K the fabric starts to get heavy , and a coldness seeps back-in .
A dog sketches intricate patterns, with warm piss. An invisible dimmer switch takes down the available light. People become moving clumps of frozen breath: disembodied voices , dangerous assailants, reckless morons with unchained animals. Two dark outlines cross my path, and I’m instantly enveloped by a woman’s perfume.
Groups of vagrants huddle on benches, facing the empty tennis courts. They look out over clean white manicured snow. Sipping cans of twelve percent. Smoking stumpy rollups, that burn bright as each lung-full is inhaled. Clad in a ragged collection of puffa jackets and voluminous overcoats; their faces appear abstract under the low intensity flood light. They form a jagged piece of a crap jigsaw. And I expect they see the same jogger, perpetually on the move. A rat on the workhouse treadmill. A fast moving interruption to a slow-burn evening.
As I climb through the evening night, London town is a distant glow. The steeple of a church, jutting out of blackness, is clearly visible on Highgate West Hill. Snow floats down in thick-slow cotton wool flurries.
Running helps deaden the dull ache of the day; replacing its serrated rhythm with a steady, undemanding pace. At this time of the evening, at this time of year; only the serious and foolish come out. The Marathon runner, training for that spring assault, and the others, with their own personal daemons. The modern day flagellants running on creaking self-medicated knees, until the aspirin and ibuprofen are overwhelmed.
I tell myself to run through the pain, the snow and the hail. Because I know that when I return home; my body will feel energized and whole; and cleansed.