Cult of the Grotesque

There has always been something attractive in other cultures and people. It is surprising how few people enjoy such company, to the point that I feel like an anomaly. They seek mirrors of themselves, and close themselves in fear, ridicule and hate of others.

What was this fascination with different peoples, and why don’t more have it?

To see the value of other cultures and people challenges our understanding of ourselves. Everyone should know the humility of being the outsider, of not speak the language around you. It is in being an outsider that we know ourselves, when one is seen as a grotesque to others.

I went to a canadian holiday party in the village with my three year old son. A large group of people came rushing at us as we arrived. Everyone wanted to say hello.

In this group was a young man from Ghana, an exchange student and the only African there. My son walked forward through a crowd twice his height, smiling past familiar faces and friendly greetings, and went directly to this happy, smiling stranger. The man bent on a knee to be eye-level with this small child. They smiled large at one another and fell into a hug.

The moment passed and people faded back into the rooms, but these two were still captivated by each other. The music picked up and the dance floor swelled. I saw my little son in the crowd, in the arms of this smiling guy, his arms and voice high. It was a happy site.

We spoke later after the dancing, and he told me that he was a long way from home, at a festive time of year, and was missing his family and friends. Seeing this small child spot him in a crowd and have him come straight to him, give him hugs, laughs and dance was a touching moment for him, one that would help define his time and experience in Canada.

I later asked my son why he so easily befriended this stranger. He said his smile reminded him of the many ceremonial masks we hung in our home. I call the collection my cult of the grotesque, with masks from Africa, New Zealand, South America, Korea. They were the purposely hideous faces made familiar by.

My first awareness as a kid was being one of the only white-hairs in my Venezuelan neighbourhood. In Germany I sought out other nationalities for friendship. As a teen I was the foreign national living in the US. As an adult I implanted myself in to the singular french Quebec metropolis Montreal. For retirement, I am eyeing Turkey. Even my wife speaks a mother tongue I do not (not Turkish).

That keeps me active as a stranger in my life, and is the touchstone of my individuality. It drives me to be the adventurer in my life. My goal is to seek the beauty in others and try to be the magic in others’ lives, including animals and plants. Even rocks and water get special attention.

Life is a mystery, play your part.

Aroh Wendelin

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