Opening Reception – September 14, 2017 355 East Erie, Chicago, Illinois 5:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Once again, I have been invited to participate in the annual Art in Motion Art Show, which raises funds for the Art Therapy and Therapeutic Recreation programs at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.
It is a rare opportunity not only to display my paintings for sale but also to discuss the inspiration behind each piece.
This year’s event will be hosted in the beautiful, newly constructed Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, located at 355 East Erie, from 5:30 p.m.-9:00 p.m.
I am. I am guilty. We don’t use the word anymore, do we? The only time that we hear the word guilty is when it’s applied to someone who’s committed a crime. Nevertheless, I will use the word guilty because it applies to me.
I am guilty of having a genetic disease. I carry a debilitating, muscle-wasting criminal in my DNA. The sentence handed down? The rest of my life spent in prison – barred without walls. The worst part? This genetic-code criminal is capable of dwelling in my child’s DNA.
How many people with genetic diseases feel guilty, I wonder? Who do we tell? We know that we can’t apply social justice standards. No crime committed. Still, we feel responsible.
For what you might ask? For the extra load that our partner has to carry, for not being able to participate fully in the lives of our loved ones, or for having to excuse ourselves from functions, for a myriad of reasons. Still, others may feel, as I do, responsible for our genetic makeup. What can we do?
Not everything is worth saying, much less repeating. In fact, we should probably spend a lot more time thinking before we let words tumble from our tongue.
A few days ago, I read another FaceBook rant. Yes, I confess, I try to read everyone’s post. It is a character flaw of mine. Somewhere along the way, I developed the belief that if it is worth putting down on paper, then it must have some value, some weight. After all, it takes initiative to articulate concepts. Big mistake on my part.
At one point, there was an effort to writing. Grammar, sentence structure, word choice, spelling – all the old rules of written communication. While I will acknowledge that there are new ways of communicating and that rules do morph to reflect current trends, I still am stuck on the idea that giving life to words should mean something – something of value.
Instead, we have devolved into a multicultural, international mess of inarticulate, hotheaded, screaming mass. In this tumultuous time of insanity, an eruption of control grabbing is spewing acidic hate around the globe. Chants of peace and love have been married to war and hate. Oh, and yes, we (whomever that might be), we are right.
What does all of this have to do with me, a handicapped woman trying to thrive in her Midwestern town? Everything. There are people struggling each day to “cope” with pain, disease, and despair. All the while, physically healthy people are wasting their time – and mine – finding ways to bash or belittle another person.
So, before, you write another rant about some topic that happened to fall into your mind, take a moment to think.
Wha’d ya say that was worth my time?
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Phil. 4:8
My daughter called me the other day. It was one of those “just to say, ‘Hi,'” phone calls. Nothing important, no purpose – a lunchtime catch-up. Although it was a sweet moment, this isn’t what made me cry.
We talked about her job and a recent promotion. I am very proud of her work ethic and her accomplishments. I am delighted when others see in her the beauty of her mind and her soul. My love for her flows to those around her. She has worked hard to gain the respect she deserves, but this isn’t what made me cry.
Recently, in a moment of high energy, I took a moment to do a little, silly “dance.” It all started as I was leaving the sanctuary and I noticed a friend enjoying the closing song. Most of the congregation had left, but a few of us remained. Rising out of my wheelchair, I grabbed my friend’s hand. Together, as we sang and swayed to the music, another friend joined us. (My husband caught the moment on his phone and had sent the video to my daughter.) My daughter and I laughed about the joy of the moment. As I related the story behind the video, we talked about spontaneous physicality and about how few of these opportunities were available to me. The energy required to stand and sway is not often possible. Usually, my heart wants my body to participate, but my disease refuses to comply. However, this isn’t what made me cry.
She turned the conversation around to me. “How are you doing?” she asked. I told her that I was taking a painting class at the local art museum, again. This time around, the art instructor had demonstrated a technique that had broken a creative barrier for me. I was elated with the new style and eager to generate some new pieces. (Maybe even a Christmas gift or two.) This isn’t what made me cry.
My refusal to give in to my disease keeps me busy (with lots of naps). Once a month, I attend a writing group. They are a great group of people, and I told her about the inspiration and constructive insights I have gained from their critiques. We meet in the late evenings, and I need to take a long nap before I head over to our meetings. The energy cost is high and the next day is spent in bed. Nevertheless, this isn’t what made me cry.
Finally, the conversation turned to the progress of my disease. I told her that I have had more incidents of the falling/slipping out of bed. My husband springs out of bed and rushes to me as I quietly call out in the middle of the night, “Dennis, help me. I am falling.” In addition, I am starting to have trouble sitting up in bed in the morning. My brain tells my body it is time to wake up; my body refuses to comply. I cannot sit up or roll over. I just lie there: observing the war between mind and body. Again, I need to ask my husband for help. “Dennis, I can’t sit up. Will you please come help me?” As always, my husband responds quickly. Telling her about this isn’t what made me cry.
When I finished telling my daughter about the physical problems I am having, I said, “I don’t know what I do would if something happened to Dennis.”
Immediately She said, “Mom, you would come to live with us. Not in our current home. We would get a different place that would accommodate your needs.” You guessed it. This is what made me cry.
Recently, I read an article wherein the author, who has lived with a chronic illness his entire life, was lamenting how he felt pressured to “put on a happy face.” His main complaint focused on the inability of the people in his life who were reluctant to address the depression and dark moments that the chronically ill face, especially death. The author was angry that he had no outlet to express his feelings. Due to his chronic illness, he has spent long periods of time in hospitals. As a result, he has met and lost friends. Death is a strong, real presence in his world. Now, he is facing a serious deterioration in his condition, and death cannot be ignored any longer. In fact, I got the feeling that he doesn’t want to ignore the topic of dying. He is angry, frustrated, and depressed. Inasmuch as he is in a troubled state of mind, he extrapolated his feelings to include all chronically ill who are facing death. He believes that anyone who chronically ill and at peace with death must be “faking it.”
Due to his chronic illness, he has spent long periods of time in hospitals. As a result, he has met and lost friends. Death is a strong, real presence in his world. Now, he is facing a serious deterioration in his condition, and death cannot be ignored any longer. In fact, I got the feeling that he doesn’t want to ignore the topic of dying. He is angry, frustrated, and depressed. Inasmuch as he is in a troubled state of mind, he extrapolated his feelings to include all chronically ill who are facing death. He believes that anyone who is chronically ill and at peace with death must be “faking it.”
While I acknowledge that dark moments are part of the human psyche (chronically ill or not), not everyone fears death. Personally, I know of three people who were at peace with the inevitability of their death: my first husband, my niece, and a friend. However, I have also watched others who faced death with anger, fear, and resentment.
There are at least two issues underlying the ranter’s anger: (1) The perceived pressure to “put on a happy face” when the author would rather have talked about his impending death, and (2) the author’s assumption that everyone fears death. In fact, the author went so far as to say that if the dying person was content with the situation, then they were faking it. He said he hated those fakers.
I feel sorry for the author. He is facing the end of his life, he is angry, and he can only see the world from his point of view. To be at the end stage of your life and only see bleakness is a horrible way to spend your remaining days. I am also sorry that he does not have the support that he needs. (I wonder if the support is missing or if the support is not what he wants to hear.) Many people do not want to talk about death and they do not want to be around angry people. He might be in a Catch-22 situation. No matter what the specifics of his situation, I wish there was something that could be done to help him.
My chronic illness puts me at risk for a stroke or sudden cardiac death. Rather than churning my insides into a rancid soup of anger and hatred, I made the decision to be happy and do as much as I could for as long as I can. One of my new mantras is Don’t Give Up – Ever. I fear that the author has given up – on themselves and on others. Hence, the Great Divide and why he can’t understand how people can choose a different approach.
If we were to meet one another on happenstance, I wonder how the author would react to my words? Would he believe me that not everyone fears death? The range of feelings surrounding death are as varied as there are people. It is not a simple matter. In truth, the way we feel about death has a lot to do with the way we feel about life.
The three people I mentioned at the beginning of this post (who were ready to face death) were Christians. Whether or not you believe in God is not the point. My point is that Christianity gives the believer hope about the future and strength to face the present.
Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying. All three people had to deal with pain, a slowly deteriorating body, and dark moments. Still, spending time with them was a rewarding, enriching encounter. The more that they released themselves to the passing, the more serene they were in spirit. They had hope and a vision.
On the other hand, I have known people who did not have faith in God. As they faced death, the angrier they became. They spent their last days spewing hatred. Their beliefs had a deep impact on their feelings and psyche. Before you jump all over me, I know that there are people who do not believe in God but have passed away in peace. Still, there is a Great Divide about facing death.
Because you believe something doesn’t make it true. Your perception is a reality, not the reality.
Take my uncle for example. Diagnosed with myotonic dystrophy in his 40s, he was scuttled off to live with his 82-year-old mother. As soon as he heard the news, he was done. It was his free ticket to sit all day, watching television, while his mother did all the work. He did nothing – not one thing.
For four years she waited on him. By the time my grandmother was 86, she needed help herself. So, we made room, and they came to live with my family and me. Four adults and two children in a three-bedroom ranch. The roles were modified. Now, my grandmother and uncle both sat and watched television from morning to night. They did not
participate in any family events. They did not want to do anything. They did nothing – not one thing. I did all the work. It was okay with me. I did it because it needed to be done. No expectations and no rewards.
So, what was my motivation? My grandmother and uncle needed help. Neither one had ever been kind to me. It was a fact. I didn’t care. The relationships were determined the moment I was born. (Probably before I was born.)
What does this have to do with truth and perception? My uncle was a skeptic. He would tell me I had an ulterior motive. “What motive could I have?” I would ask. “You have nothing. Grandma has nothing. I am taking care of you because you need a caregiver.” He never answered the question. He refused to believe that I took them in because they needed help. He would not (could not?) understand that their lack of grace towards me did not determine my actions towards them. He could only see life as a reflection of himself.
Grandma’s point of view? I don’t know. She would tell me stories of her life. In all of them, she was the sad victim. I would wipe her tears. Unhappy and dissatisfied, she looked at life through a glass streaked and stained with misery.
Today, I live with myotonic dystrophy. I do not sit all day watching television. I write, read, and paint. In addition, I visit people and invite people into my home. I attend church, a writer’s group, and a painting class. What do I see? Hope and love. Why? Because my belief is based on a faith in God.
For the last three months, I have been working on a portrait. It is still in process; an unfinished, challenging, ongoing, all-encompassing activity. In fact, it is a series of problem-solving steps. Every brush stroke is a considered motion. Ahead of that, there is the choice of hue, value, and type of brush for each stroke.
Yet, before I even contemplated the paint colors, I needed to have a vision of what I wanted to paint. After some time spent looking through photographs (life model was not available), I made my decision. Finally, I knew what I wanted to paint, who I wanted to paint, and what I wanted the painting to look like when I finished.
This brings me to today. Just as with any creative process, there is labor. Oil painting is something I love to do; nevertheless, there is frustration and aggravation. When I am not painting, my mind often wanders back to the canvas. In fact, I take several photos so that I can examine the current state of my painting. What can I do better? Where are the problems? How can I improve the image?
I have probably wiped down and scraped off more paint than is currently on the canvas. In fact, I am positive of it. Some of what I rubbed off was good. Indeed, one image was beautiful. Nevertheless, it did not reflect my plan. A portrait is more than capturing the likeness of the person; it is an attempt to capture the character of the individual.
We have all see portraits of dignitaries or famous people. Have you ever noticed the tilt of the head, what they are holding in their hands, what type of clothing they are wearing? All of it is designed to convey an important fact. The intention of the artist and individual is for you to know an answer to a “who” question. That big consuming question for so many of us.
All of this got me to thinking: our lives are canvases. We began life with an image already imprinted before any paint was applied. Upon birth, our parents started to add the paint with their brushes. They took a beautiful plan and added to it. Some of what they applied was solid and worth keeping. Much of it needed to be wiped off – maybe, it needed to be scraped off.
As you matured, you also began to add to your image. Eventually, at some point, you took the brush out of the master’s hand. Formulating a plan in your head, you changed the image. You might even have painted something beautiful – probably not. After awhile, your portrait started to have problems. You started to ask yourself What can I do better? Where are the problems? How can I improve?
At this point in your life, you might be struggling with a disability or some other difficulty. They are wayward strokes. Unlike other times when you could wipe down or scrape off unwanted “paint,” these strokes are permanent changes. It could be that the problems have helped you to focus on what needs to be changed. Maybe, you are finding that your troubles are developing your character. As we examine our lives, we are afforded the opportunity to stand back and unearth the original vision. The discovery process, the hard work and frustration, is answering the “who” question.
It may not be a neurotypical life; it may not be what you or I envisioned for our lives. Nevertheless, the portrait is not to be trashed. Your character will shine through. There is still a beautiful portrait sitting there – unfinished.