MARTI HEALY: The chairs
They’re both quite happy chairs, I think. Not because of appearance – not due to look or style or finish. And they are, in fact, quite different from each other in that respect. But it is their history, their accumulated experience and energy and “spirit” (one might call it) that makes me sense their peace and satisfaction with life, and call them happy chairs.
I realize they are chairs. Inanimate objects. And yet, not unlike the way a stone or brick may absorb the heat of the sun or a fire, and then transfer that warmth to another setting and sense of touch, I suspect chairs may very well absorb and transfer a sense of the energy from the lives they have served and known – especially if those lives were strong in emotion and energy at the time.
Other life objects are well known for their reflection of human relationship: a shoe conforms so completely to the shape of the foot that wears it regularly that it creates a bond of immediate recognition with the wearer; while so much of where it has traveled and walked remains on its sole that it may even be used as evidence in a court of law.
My sister, a violinist, could pick her own instrument out of a symphony row of them – by its feel against her chin, its strings beneath her fingers, the tone it creates in her hands.
Old clocks wind best to the touch of their keepers; cars will brake most surely to the pressure of the dominate driver; famous novelists have often refused to write their words on anything but their own familiar typewriters.
And so it is with chairs, I believe.
My two happy chairs came to live with me just recently, but both are vintage, rich with patinas of experience. And, although they were both found in the same family garage sale, their individual histories differ greatly (the previous owner happens to be a friend of mine and shared their stories).
One of the chairs was used primarily as a prop in a photographer’s studio. Its style is reminiscent of a safari camp chair – made with a heavy iron frame and wooden arms and a seat and back of an unfinished suede-like material that looks like rough-out military boots. It has held, and been a backdrop for, a vast sampling of life – including humans and dogs, designer bags and polo mallets, high fashion and high emotion, cancer survivors and successful artists, small children with damp hands and expensive art and antique silver. It is not a comfortable chair; it was never meant to be. It is for posing and pretence, presence and personality.
The other chair served generations of probably anxious patients in a doctor’s consulting room. It is made of warm dark wood with a black leather seat and back edged in brass hobnails – like fingerprints holding it in place and time. This is a much more gentle and vulnerable chair, although it is quite sturdy and solid. It is worn bare in places now; there are small breaks and tears in its leather, exposing some of its softness. It is welcoming and unexpectedly comfortable. It must have been the first to hear of new babies to come and sore tonsils to be removed; I would hope more good news than bad, more comfort than concern. But it supported its visitors regardless, with an equality of quiet compassion and steadiness and familiarity.
The chairs are now re-homed within my own house. The photography chair sits in my writing room at the edge of a vintage wooden desk. It holds mostly cats and scarves and the occasional visitor. The doctor’s chair – cracks and wayward stuffing and all – has taken a prominent place in my main library, which also hosts dinner parties. There are new lives and fresh conversations for both of the chairs to absorb now. Which will, hopefully, continue to fill them with positive energy and joy and a sense of wellbeing and purpose.
Turkish writer Mehmet Murat ildan observed: “There is something much better than sitting on an empty chair and that is to watch it and let it inspire you to think deeply.” Apparently I agree.