Sunday, April 26, 2020

SEEING WITH DIFFERENT EYES

When I left a paper towel crumpled up on the counter yesterday, the different planes of white made me think of the ways Georgia O'Keeffe painted white, particularly flowers. There were always other colors in her white: purple, blue, green, gray, sometimes pink and red and orange, and they spoke eloquently of the way she saw flowers close up and intently.  
She said once, "You put out your hand to touch the flower--lean forward to smell it--maybe touch it with your lips almost without thinking--or give it to someone to please them.  Still--in a way--nobody sees a flower--really--it is so small--we haven't time--and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time." For anyone who paints, seeing a flower is an intense and time consuming work.  Looking at every gradation of color and texture, even if what you are painting is a white flower, determining how thick the paint will be, what sort of brush strokes you will need, how you will mix the colors on the palette, and how adjust them once you have begun to set strokes on canvas. If you are using water color, it is like playing chess.  You have to think far enough ahead to mask the areas where you want to place very light colors or white at the end of your painting.  Although I started with water color, I found it too difficult to know ahead of time what areas exactly I'd need to mask. And once, when I was doing a triptych for a final in a watercolor class, I accidentally dropped a blob of quinacridone red on the middle canvas. I couldn't scrub if off without damaging the canvas, so I had to paint another bougainvillea bloom where the paint had splattered. Fortunately it worked in that painting, but something like that could easily have ruined the whole panel. My mother was still alive when I started painting and she told me that my grandfather, who had been a painter and sculptor, told her that he really preferred painting with oils because you could cover up your mistakes.  It was only later when I realized that he used water colors most of the time because they were so much less expensive, and that made a difference for an artist living through the Depression.  
I also loved oils, and many of my paintings had areas that were quite thick where I had wrestled with trying to convey what I had seen and it took several layers to achieve the effect I wanted.  My favorite painting of all that I did was of Monet's garden at Giverny in the spring.  I spent two years on that painting, and I placed the arc of the support for the summer flowers right at the edge of the canvas, and was so pleased with the result that I could never bear to use a frame that would cover the top of the arc, so I painted the edges of the canvas to continue the landscape, and a friend who was also my interior decorator, designed an exterior frame to look like a window so that I can imagine I am looking out at Giverny from my bedroom.  It was many years later that I actually saw Monet's water lily gardens and looked out of his windows at the paint box flower beds, but I spent an entire afternoon wandering up and down the paths of his gardens. For thirty years I had dreamed of being in those gardens, and I believe I took the time to befriend--and fall in love with--the spectacular flowers that sang of a painter's enchantment.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

THE MOST AMAZING DAY

I don't remember when I first noticed the readings for Easter Wednesday particularly, but it was probably quite a few years ago.  I often went to Mass almost every day, and I tried to go throughout the Octave of Easter.  But one particular year, I noticed that the first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, described the healing of a man crippled from birth by Peter.  A later verse identifies this man as being over 40 years old, and when I first read it, I was in that age group.  Imagine being crippled your whole life, being carried and placed at the gate of the temple called "the Beautiful Gate" to beg for alms in order to live.  He asked for alms from Peter and John, who were heading into the temple to pray.  Peter told him to look at them and then said, "'I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk.'  Peter then took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles grew strong. He leaped up, stood, and walked around, and went into the temple with them, walking and jumping and praising God." I love to imagine this man, crippled all his life, and now not only walking but jumping and praising God in the temple.  What a blessing for this man, and for all the people who saw him, recognized him as the poor crippled beggar, and were "filled with amazement and astonishment at what had happened to him."
The Gospel for this day narrates the story of the two disciples who were headed to Emmaus, leaving Jerusalem after all their hopes and dreams were crushed by the crucifixion of the one whom they had thought was the Messiah. Fr. Chuck Gallagher, who founded World Wide Marriage Encounter, held that the two disciples were Cleopas and his wife, and I have since heard that maintained as a possibility by a priest from our parish who has a PhD in Biblical studies, as well as by Bishop Robert Barron in his homily for Easter Wednesday this year.
In any event, the two were conversing and debating about everything that had happened when Jesus, whom they did not recognize, drew near, asked them what they were discussing, and then explained to them everything in the Scriptures that referred to him and why he needed to suffer and thus enter into his glory.  When they persuaded him to stay with them, he "took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them." Their eyes were opened as he vanished from their sight, but they said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?"
How much like a loving married couple that sounds to me!  And they immediately went back to the community of the disciples instead of scattering to Emmaus, where they all were sharing their experiences of the risen Lord.
Yes, the solemnity of Easter is the most important feast day of the entire Church year, but for me the Wednesday in the Octave of Easter, brings together the many manifestations of the significance of the Resurrection of the Lord, so that we too can leap and jump and celebrate the joy that overflows as our hearts burn within us as he speaks to us on the way, even sheltered in our homes or working to alleviate the pandemic that rages around us.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

UNPRECEDENTED

When my daughter Elizabeth and I were talking a few days ago, she was saying how much she wished my husband were still alive because she thought he could give us some insight into the pandemic, how to live with the shelter in place requirements, and of course they could both discuss the scientific aspects of the coronavirus.  I opined that he would be keeping up with the constantly breaking news and that I wouldn't have to spend much time finding out what was going on, because he could give me a summary every night.  
He was a news hound, and had worked on the Harvard radio station, WHRB, when he was there. It was also where he began to appreciate classical music as well as learned the pronunciations of every composer from countries where everyone had tongue-twisting names to an English speaker. When we went on our honeymoon to the Lake of the Ozarks (long before Branson had been discovered), I wasn't surprised that before we went to dinner each night, he had to check the news. After all, we were in the middle of the Watergate hearings!
As I think of how the landscape of the world has changed and emptied in such a short time, I often think that he would use such words as "unprecedented," he would probably have surprising insights into the pandemic and how it has affected all of us, and probably some predictions of the future direction of the virus, the attempts to create a vaccine, and whether life will ever return to "normal."  Somehow, his interest in knowing, his intelligent approach to almost every subject, and his way of explaining things made even frightening things less so.
Of course, some of what can make things seem frightening to me is just the fact that I am often alone.  This Easter is the first time in my life I have ever been alone on Easter, and I suspect there are many people who are alone for the first time.  Usually my daughter Mary and her family are here; they would come on Good Friday or Holy Saturday to dye eggs, we'd get the Easter baskets out and set them out in my bedroom before I put them out for the Easter bunny to fill.  Recently my son would help with the Easter bunny's task, and last year we had a Jewish friend and a Buddhist friend who came to the Easter Mass with us, where I was playing, and then came back to the house so they could see what an Easter egg hunt was like!
This year we might have had to have the egg hunt inside since rain was predicted and it looked relatively gloomy, but there was no egg hunt at my house; it had been transferred to my daughter's, and she came to pick up all the Easter paraphernalia a week ago along with her daughter's birthday present.  I watched her open it at the end of the front walk. My sister-in-law mentioned that she had had a similar activity with one of her grandchildren.
Instead, I had a Zoom call at noon with all five of my daughters and almost all the grandchildren, except for two little ones who were asleep.  It was a lively call, and wonderful to see them all, most of whom were all dressed up even though of course they couldn't go to Mass.  It is a strange and dislocating time, but I am so thankful for the internet and Zoom which have enabled me to stay in touch with family and friends even when I am locked down in my home--and I am thankful for a warm home, the dusky fragrance of Mirandy roses, the intoxicating scent of orange blossoms and the fresh oranges I can pick from my own tree.  For these small blessings, and the greatest blessing of the Resurrection, I am truly grateful. As my husband said every Easter morning, "Resurrexit sicut dixit."

Sunday, April 5, 2020

THE SWORD CHRONICLES

My son has been sheltering in two places, our home and the home of my business partner, since for the past four weeks, he has been traveling back and forth between the two from the day when Maria's husband Edward was life flighted by helicopter to the hospital to treat his cardiac issues, climaxed by cardiac arrest from which he was jolted back to life. He was hospitalized for more than three weeks, and moved from one hospital to another when the coronavirus cases began descending on the first hospital's Intensive Care Unit. Eventually, Edward had a pacemaker and defibrillator implanted and finally came home a week ago. My son helped out by staying at their ranch, and taking care of their three dogs and three cats when Maria was at the hospital or staying with me so she could go back and forth more easily when Edward had the surgery. Just before Edward came home, Gilbert helped Maria tile their bathroom sink so it would be done when Edward returned. 
When my son was home this time, he was telling me some stories about Edward's various ventures in life, including designing helicopters, drones, and other similar items for the military. He then ventured into some stories my father had told him, and the chronicle of the Samurai sword was one that I had never heard. At some point when I was a child, my father had showed me the sword that a Japanese friend had given him when he was part of the occupying army after World War II. It was a curious looking object for a child who had seen European swords.  In its case, it looked like a long, slightly curved cylinder, ivory colored with what I had thought were drawings, but I am now assuming might have been Japanese.
When my father pulled the sword out of its case, the top part was the sword handle and the sword emerged from the rest of the case. My father never let me touch the blade, but I assume that it meant business.  
I remember that when my father died and we were starting to clear out their part of our home, I wondered why I never found the sword.  I found one of his rifles, which I gave to a cousin who was a hunter. Well, Gilbert told me that my father had told him when he was still a little boy that when my father's friend had told him that he had had a son, and my father realized that the sword he had was probably a family heirloom, he sent it back to his friend. I felt so happy knowing the end of that story, because I knew from the fact that my parents got a Christmas card from his friend every year until my father died that their friendship crossed cultures and radiated from a very deep respect on both sides.
How interesting that my son told me this story twenty years after my father died and it was something I had never heard. Although my son is now an adult, it reminded me that "a little child shall lead them (Isaiah 11:6).