Friday, August 21, 2009

Grateful for an “artistic” moment

I pulled into the driveway of our home in the Berkshires and there she was-my wife was on our deck, standing in front of an easel. Brush in hand, wide hat on her head, and a deep sense of gratefulness in her heart.
I simply sat in the car and basked in the moment of gratefulness knowing how essential painting is for my wife’s soul and for witnessing the quiet and intense joy on her face.
My wife is a wonderfully able social worker, responsible for a mental health clinic for children and adolescents. Her working life is stressful and demanding, yet rewarding. By and large there is very little beauty in her working life; abused children and spouses, dysfunctional families, people ensnared by addiction, failure and pain in the classroom, are the brush strokes of a colorless, grey, if not black world .The canvas of my wife’s work world is splattered with the oils of human struggle and indignity.
When a calm moment arrives-a long weekend, a summer vacation- she takes a well-deserved absence from the dark world of human tragedy and enters into a world of light and color-luscious green of rustling trees, swaths of sunshine and color, a world of sheer beauty.
I glanced at her canvas. I noticed what appeared to be arbitrary stroke of random color.
“Why did you make those strokes?” I asked. “What do they mean?”
She replied. “This is the sketch of the painting I am working on.” It made no immediate sense to me. I am barely capable of drawing a round face with a smile or a frown.
I then realized that every stroke was like a letter or word in a composition of writing. She had the talent and the training to understand the vocabulary of color. That was one of her many gifts, one that brought her an inner, core experience of joy. That was the thread of her creative life, a gift from the Universe ,one for which all who will see the finished painting will indeed be grateful.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Grateful for “standing on one leg.”

I slammed on my brakes. Arriving at a crossway in the center of town, a pedestrian was about to cross the street. He was navigating a mechanized wheel chair, a red flag perched at the rear announcing caution and care. The elderly man looked mad; tubes stuck out of his nose; his complexion was ashen and the skin of his bare legs was a raw red.
I could not help but watch him hurriedly roll by and imagine how difficult a life he must endure. Wondering about his destination I learned that he was on his way to the town library. I continued my ride.
On the way, I passed a local cemetery, one that would capture my fascination with each
ride by. On a hill, the stones dark gray, even black, many barely standing , tilting to one side. One stone stood on one point of its four corners, seemingly defying the force of gravity.
In life and in death, we are often left with only one leg to stand on. The gentleman crossing the crossway had his library, a book would support his final days, however painful and humiliating. The deceased had a stone, however unstable, to remind the world of his life. As long as it stood, even on “one leg,” it defied oblivion.
Whatever our handicaps and infirmities, we have a leg to stand on, some part of life that sustains us and helps us understand that life is, in the final analysis, worthwhile. It falls to us to recognize this support and find gratitude for it. If we do, we can, I believe, overcome any crossway and arrive safely on the other side.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


I just returned from food shopping-a new feature of my life since retirement-and in the bag of groceries was a tin of oatmeal-John McCann steel cut Oat meal-on the cover of the tin the buyer is informed that it won a certificate of award at the international exhibition of 1876 and is produced in County Kildare, Ireland. I am not impressed by packaging gimmicks or clever advertising tricks;this product was recommended by a good friend and as someone who loves oatmeal I decided to give this brand a try. A further reluctance to purchase this item had to do with its preparation-it was not done instantaneously in a microwave but required the traditional procedures of boiling water, cooking the grains and letting the mixture simmer with occasional stirring.
Too much work, I thought!
Well, I am now hooked on my morning McCann's oatmeal. This simple act of boiling water and adding the oatmeal which takes no more than 15-20 minutes has been another lesson in learning to be grateful for the mystery of simple things in life.
To prepare the oatmeal has slowed me down internally.The need for patience, for the simple deliberate steps of measuring 2 cups of water, bringing the water to a brisk boil, stirring the oatmeal, allowing it to simmer, all introduce a ritual or practice that reminds me to be mindful of what I eat and how I arrive at a delicious food that is both edible and nutritious.
Other remarkable benefits bless this activity. Have you ever carefully observed the dance of brisk popping bubbles in a pot of boiling water? Have you ever stopped to listen to these tiny balloons pop in the hush of an early morning"s sacred silence? Have you ever witnessed the miracle of a natural hard grain transforming itself into a soft and spongy substance ,a source of nurturance and life for humans and other sentient beings? Have you ever inhaled the warm, sweet scents of a breakfast of steaming oatmeal evoking olifactory memories of a child snuggled under protective covers on an early morning of a cold winter's day?

Together with morning prayers, I have added the preparation of oatmeal to my daily act of thanksgiving and gratitude. Who knows? Perhaps this simple act will lead to the more elaborate preparation of cooking full meals for my wife and family!