Voices of Hodgkin’s Blog
Voices of Hodgkin’s Blog
Voices of Hodgkin’s Blog

The Value of Standing Still

By Maria Sarath Ragucci

The Value of Standing Still- by Maria Sarath Ragucci

A book review and personal thoughts from a fellow Hodgkin’s survivor
Photo: Maria Ragucci and son, Thomas

Patrick Bringley was 22 years old and starting out in a glamorous job at the New Yorker when his older brother was diagnosed with cancer. When his brother died three years later, Bringley sought an escape from his grief and from the clamorous priorities that had ruled his life before his heart was broken. He badly needed to stand still for a while.

He quit the New Yorker and applied for a job in the most straightforward and beautiful place he knew – the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In short order, he interviewed, trained, was licensed, and outfitted as a museum guard, dropping out of the “forward-marching world” and taking up his post in the beautiful world of the Met. All he had to do was keep his head up, keep watch, keep his eyes wide, his hands empty, and allow his inner world to draw from the beauty of the works of art around him.

Each day was a copy of the day before. The wonders of the Met didn’t change, the visitors’ questions didn’t vary, and the public didn’t learn not to touch the art. There was no progress, per se. Yet, to his own surprise, Bringley ended up finding a home away from home in the Met for ten years. In his book, “All the Beauty in the World, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Me”, he offers a revealing portrait of his journey through beauty, grace, and loss.

It’s a funny, beautifully written and gorgeous book that works on many levels. Bringley is knowledgeable, insightful, and illuminating about the astounding art contained within the Met’s walls, as well as the power of art and the way we experience it. It is also a fascinating and surprising exploration of the culture and the people who undergird the Met and make it hum.

When I finished the book, I fervently wished I could take Patrick Bringley with me on my next visit to the Met. But what moved me the most was the way in which he expressed what it felt like for him to now be “going nowhere” rather than “going places.” He had “no ball to push forward, no project to advance, no future [he was] building toward.”  In this regard, I had Patrick Bringley with me already; in his experiences, I recognized perspectives that illuminated some of my own struggles with defining my life.

When I graduated from law school, I began working at a high-powered Wall Street law firm. It was prestigious – I worked on high-profile deals, such as bailing out California from its 1980s fiscal crisis and financing an innovative bond issue for Memorial Sloan Kettering. It was also exciting – as a young lawyer, I spent a week in one of the more remote parts of the globe, Barrow, Alaska, to close a deal that underwrote the construction of a new courthouse in Barrow. I went alone and felt great pressure and pride about closing the deal without a hitch.

But this life was all-consuming, and after four years, I moved to a tamer environment as in-house counsel for a major New York bank. It was not as exciting but it was equally rewarding as I developed close relationships with my clients and took great satisfaction from serving them with excellence and extra effort.

For fifteen years, in these environments, I was always “going places.”  I was striving for promotions, for bonuses, for positive feedback. There was progress to be measured, there were achievements to be noted. Professional work was the base on which I built all the other aspects of a good life.

When my son was born, my identity was still glued to being a working lawyer and I couldn’t imagine forgoing that. Yet, as I stayed home during maternity leave, I found myself extending that leave until finally, I realized I was not going back to work. I had a new identity, as a mother, and I wasn’t going anywhere.

The 18 years of being at home with my son were the happiest of my life. Patrick Bringley has helped me to realize that it was because I was standing still. There was no progress, per se. There was nothing to report at the end of the day. The only goals were to keep my head up, keep watch, keep my eyes wide, my hands empty and draw from the love, joy, beauty and fun all around me in the world with my son.

In recent years, I have found myself struggling again with how to think about my life. My son is grown, I am getting older and I am suffering from late effects that have permanently altered how I live my life. I can no longer take for granted my strength and stamina. I look back yearningly at how easily in the past I did physical labor around my home and yard, how for years I relished my four-times-weekly strength training sessions with the old-timer down the street who had trained with Schwarzenegger and had a hole-in-the-wall gym. I had to trade in the long hikes and walks which were mainstays of my identity since I was a child for shorter ones.

My world has shrunk, and I feel a loss over the things I can no longer do or enjoy. But I want to look at this time in my life as another time of standing still. No progress, per se. I don’t need a particular identity. I don’t need forward motion or goals. I want to keep my head up and my eyes wide, I want to keep watch in my little universe, where everything matters. The quiet of a beautiful morning, the birdsong and breeze through open windows, a cup of coffee, a lively Russian class, a vase of fragrant lilies, the leisurely letters in longhand that a few of my dearest friends and I regularly exchange.

I want to embrace this standing-still life as not only legitimate but to find that it is as valuable and as meaningful as any life, including the ones I’ve lived earlier. Patrick Bringley considers himself very fortunate to have had ten years of being cloistered in the world of the Met, and he took with him the best parts of that when he returned to the larger world.

I will consider myself very fortunate if I find the grace and beauty in the world around me now, and take the best parts of it with me for as long as I am able.