Earlier this year, I was one of the millions across North America that went to check out one of the Vincent Van Gogh Experiences (I went to Immersive at The Strand Theatre in Dorchester. It wasn’t until recently I realized there are a dozen or so similar but different “Van Gogh Experiences” out there as well.)
A fan of art and a lover of history, my curiosity was piqued to see what made this sweeping exhibit so unique that the entire continent seemed to be enthralled with it.
I had a rudimentary knowledge of Van Gogh’s work and life, but certainly learned much more at Immersive surrounding the intellect, passion, anger, and beauty that consumed and ultimately ended his life.
Van Gogh, largely labeled a failure during his living years, is now recognized as a misunderstood genius. Today his works are among the most expensive paintings ever sold.
His attempts to make his era see and understand what he knew existed within; and what our era understands about him today, slowly drove him mad.
As he battled depression, and entered dark places, he produced some of his most brilliant work. And at a frequent pace. Of his 2100 artworks, most were created in his last two years living.
As I meandered through the exhibit; the various details of his life and collections of his work, one piece struck me the hardest.
It wasn’t a painting but rather one of the many letter correspondence, Van Gogh had with his beloved younger brother Theo.
“The sadness will last forever…” Vincent wrote in his final letter to Theo, describing what he saw in the world as much as he was his own mental state.
Van Gogh had known for a while that he wouldn’t live to see 40 years old. He had fought so hard. Loved so hard. And given everything he could to try and get people of his era to see what he knew was to be.
By 1968, Martin Luther King Jr too was tired of fighting. Those that knew him closest, have said he had been deeply saddened his last couple of years.
In this magazine, we feature the King Boston organization, Martin Luther King Jr’s time in Boston, and The Embrace Memorial coming in January, 2023.
Like Van Gogh, King knew he would not live to see his 40th birthday.
On April 3rd, 1968, just hours before he would leave this earth, MLK delivered one of his most riveting speeches; and even though he knew he had nothing left, remained strong one final time in his message of hope for humanity.
With every last bit of strength he had, King proclaimed:
Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind.
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
And so I’m happy, tonight.
I’m not worried about anything.
I’m not fearing any man.
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!
King knew, he couldn’t bring himself to fully tell us, but he knew this was his last time speaking publicly to humanity. I may not get there with you.
His final speech, so powerful that in conclusion he had to be helped to his seat to avoid collapsing right there on the stage. He gave everything he had to ensure to all of us we knew there was a Promised Land.
Vincent Van Gogh and Martin Luther King Jr both fought with everything they had for their eras to see a truth they knew existed that others just would not see.
Both brilliant men, filled with sadness towards the end of their days as a result of this reality.
These past two years: the pandemic, quarantines, mandates, ostracization of groups and all of the related baggage that has come with it have created a lot of sadness throughout the world.
I know I have gone through and felt it.
The three quarters of a century from Van Gogh to King took us from a sadness that will last forever to the guarantee of a Promised Land.
Now half a century from King, it’s time we fulfill the dream for humanity and deliver that Promised Land.
The Sadness Doesn’t Have to Last Forever.