Coffee table books say a lot about a home and the people who live there. They say “We love art“ or “We love to travel” or “We love Marilyn Monroe.” In my case, my books tell my guests, “I love Paris,” “The Beatles are immortal” and “God is a big purple.” (Because I ‘found God’ at the National Air and Space museum watching a movie about the Hubble Telescope. So I bought a book with His picture in it and Steve’s response was “God is a big purple?”) Coffee table books are never meant to be read—(how depressing of a job would that be? You pour your whole soul into writing a book that people only look at the pictures-kind of like writing for Playboy magazine I guess). The images however can remain with us forever (speaking of coffee table books, folks). This is the case with the coffee table book I grew up as a child, “The Family of Man.” Finding it again as an adult, brought back the same feelings of awe that I felt as a young girl.
“The Family of Man” was a photographic exhibit created in 1955 by Edward Steichen and displayed at the Museum of Modern Art. This exhibit featured 508 photographs, by 273 photographers, of people in 68 countries. The theme is “people!” The poet, Carl Sandburg, explains in the prologue:
People! Flung wide and far, born into toil, struggle, blood and dreams, among lovers, eaters, drinkers, workers, loafers, fighters, players, gambler. Here are ironworkers, bridgemen, musicians, sandhogs, miners, builders of huts and skyscrapers, jungle hunters, landlords and the landless, the loved and the unloved, the lonely and the abandoned, the brutal and the compassionate-one big family hugging close to the ball of Earth for its life and being.
In a different place and time, Carl Sandburg was asked what he thought the ugliest word in the English language was? After thinking for a few minutes, he answered, “The ugliest word, the ugliest word is ‘exclusive’.” Mr. Sandburg was the brother-in-law of Edward Steichen. The photographs showing the universality of the human experience must have also left a deep impression on him. I have thought how I might answer a similar question, “What is the most beautiful word in the English language?” Many words come to my mind, Love, Patience, Peace, Tolerance, Hope. Even the word “inclusive” has been a powerful word as I have raised my son, Andy, in a much kinder world than existed during Mr. Sandburg’s lifetime. However, the word I would choose as my personal most beautiful word is “human.” It is a word that describes each and every one of us, it includes our triumphs and frailties, our strengths and shortcomings and the experience that each and every one of us shares on this big, blue marble. It allows us to soar and to fall, to love and to anger, to pray and to curse, to laugh and to cry. As I have sought for an identity to guide the second half of my life, I have found no better word to describe where I hope to fit in. I am human, a member of the family of man. Fortunately, as a very young girl, my mom left this gentle reminder of this sitting on our coffee table.
**By the way mom, Amazon has the original “Family of Man” book going for 400 dollars-what happened to that book?