It’s been about two weeks since I made the decision to resurrect a creative routine. The decision was the result of a webinar hosted by a friend, but the fuel to keep it going beyond the first day or two came from an unwelcome source.
Saturday morning we rushed Thing1 to the emergency room because his chronic illness had generated an overnight weight loss of over 10 pounds. I knew he had not been feeling well for the last day or so, but most of his flareups have resolve themselves in a day or two.
This one is still playing out, as we continue with fluid replacement and hospital visits.
I’ve been trying to find a silver lining–acknowledging that the umpteen phone calls and emails and texts are signs that — unlike too many Americans — at least we have the resources to help him. Like any parent, however, my focus has been on the cloud over the lining.
I worry how long he will have access to the care he desperately needs. I worry for all the parents of children with chronic illness who don’t have adequate health coverage and wonder how they handle that impact on their child’s health or life.
And I paint. When I’m frustrated on T1’s behalf, I paint. When I get off the phone with the insurance company wondering if his treatment will be compromised by what they are willing to cover, I paint. The painted pages don’t express tears or shouting, they exist instead of those things.
Art has always been a therapy for me, channeling worry or depression into something productive. Inspiration is a dubious gift, however, and right now I am eagerly anticipating the moment that my new creative routine must be fueled by discipline instead.
Wanting to protect him in his formative years, I’ve never written Thing1’s name on this blog. On the occasion of his 17th birthday last week, however, Thing1 went on a walk-about up the back of Mount Equinox, the highest peak of the Taconics. It was from the top of the Equinox, about 4PM, that he sent me the photo that inspired this painting.
Mac – short for MacLean is as independent-minded as you’d think someone with a name like his might be, but he’s also something I’ve never been.
He’s brave. Not fearless – but brave.
On the way up the mountain, he texted a few photos and the occasional weather report – ‘a storm is passing and it’s so cool – don’t worry, Mom’. His phone ran out of battery before he could text about the bear that crossed his path on the way down the mountain, but neither a lack of communications or a close encounter of the furry kind sent him scurrying to our doorstep. The only thing that brought him off the mountain seemed to be the acknowledgement that, as it got darker out, his mother would be doing what mothers do best – worrying.
When he got back, he showed us the pictures he’d taken and told us of everything he’d seen — the abandoned farm, the gates of the monastery that sits midway up the mountain and the animals that had crossed his path. He ended his story with plans for a next hike and an invitation to join him on a future adventure, and I realized we’d received the best possible birthday present from Mac on his 17th birthday.
We heard a kid who could acknowledge the reality of unexpected dangers on a hike while refusing to let fear keep him from the path. And I knew his invitation wasn’t a cry for help but an encouragement to join him on a new adventure.
Newsfeeds filled with atrocities committed by Americans against Americans as well as with the specter of Nazi banners and slogans taking center stage at the home of one of America’s top universities this weekend made it easy for anger and worry to reach their saturation points.
Anger is counterproductive. I believe it is important to bear witness, but I also believe anger and worry are toxic. They change no minds. They don’t get to the root of the hate.
For me, the only thing that deflates the anxiety is paint on a blank where I can meditate on the things that do drive out hate — education, kindness,hope and the faith that we can and will be better.
Saturday and Sunday as I painted a familiar field in Arlington, I ruminated on the things that have made Vermont — and, by extension, this country — great for me. Generosity, seeing neighbors helping neighbors and finding joy in their successes have been the hallmarks of our life here. The memory of collective kindness doesn’t just soothe the soul, it inspires it to pay the civility and love forward.
“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”
“Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Ironically, in the week of a weekend filled with hate and murder, it seems more vital than ever to remember those words and think about how best to realise them.