The first thing we saw while visiting the home of Thomas Jefferson was a collection of tools. A hammer. It made me smile. You would have thought the Declaration of Independence would be front and center, but it came after. Of course it did. First, there was work to be done. And there still is.
It was, I suppose, self evident that all men were created equal. Yet, they still had slaves. Today, we don’t have slaves, but there is still so much work to do. So the “hammer”, the work, must remain in the foreground. Knowing this, is a start. Maya Angelou always rings in my ear, “When you know better, you do better.” I want to do better – in everything.
I’m working on a collection of my daily blogs. It is entitled, “Pulling Nails.” Each time I make a frame at home in France, I take the reclaimed wood, pull out the nails, sand it, sand it again, and again, cut, strengthen, build something stronger, and it is beautiful. I suppose that has always been my goal. Take what has been given, and make it better. I hope I can do this. I hope we all can do this. Pull the nails and make something beautiful.
Let’s get to work.
After seeing it, the Liberty Bell, I had to look up the actual definition of the word. The thing is, we always think we know. There are many interpretations of course, but the words that kept popping up were freedom, rule of law, and not depriving anyone else of their freedom. Oh, we get the first part so easily, freedom, freedom, freedom. Me, me, me. But do we get the second part? The anyone else’s? That’s the hard part, I suppose. That’s where the crack comes in. This is where we fail so often.
We stood in line to view it, this line of anyone else’s, this line of every color and age, this respectful line that moved slowly in the heat of the sun – the great disinfectant. We were quiet, polite, respectful. For we were all in search of the same thing – proof that this was still the case – it could be done peacefully – this search, this daily march toward liberty. This daily march together in our differences, together in our similar pursuit.
We only got a few minutes to stand before the symbol, this bell. But it rings in my heart. I pray it rings in yours. I am your anyone else, and you are mine. And we march together, search together, work together, to ring out the great truths we all want to hear.
I was working at my desk when he landed on the window sill, just a foot from my shoulder. This magpie seemed to own the whole sky. No worries. He was looking out at the garden, not at me. I watched him. He was so close, but he hadn’t yet turned to see me. When he turned his black and blue head towards me, his mouth, if possible, would have turned into an OH! His neck jerked back, his eyes grew twice their size. What was I doing in his world???? He did a double take, and I was still there. He just couldn’t believe it! He shrugged his wing – he really did, and flew into the endless blue.
We are arrogant to believe this world is only for us. Each bird. Each flower. Has a place. There is room. To fight over the blue above us, the green beneath us, and every color in between… senseless. There is room. A place for us.
They sang it in the song. A time and a place for us:
We’ll find a new way of living
Will find a way of forgiving
There’s a place for us
Somewhere a place for us
Peace and quiet and open air wait for us
There’s a time for us
Someday there’ll be a time for us
Time together with time to spare
Time to learn, time to care
We’ll find a new way of living
Will find there’s a way of forgiving
Somewhere, somewhere, somewhere
There’s a place for us
A time and a place for us
Hold my hand and we’re halfway there
Hold my hand and I’ll take you there
Somehow, someday, somewhere”
I have to believe it is now. I have to believe it is here.
Opposites, in painting, are also referred to as complementary. Isn’t that interesting? They are on the opposite side of the color wheel, completely different, but when placed next to each other in a painting they create the largest contrast, making each color the most vibrant. In other words, they bring out the best in each other. Hmmmm….
I think you can see where I’m going with this. It’s strange that we haven’t found a way to do that for one another. We could, you know, be joyful in ourselves, and stand next to our opposites, those different in race and religion, those with different ideas and lifestyles, different interests and bank accounts, different capabilities… we could stand next to our opposites and bring out the best in them, and they in us. What a tableau that would be!
Maybe today I could be the yellow to your blue. And we could both be vibrant!
She was immersed in gray, this young woman on Youtube. I watched her walk by the lake, in the fog, in the drizzle. The sky seemed to seep into the water, barely a difference. And she was so happy! Truly happy! The kind of heart-sighing that breaks into the widest smile of content. And just to confirm it, she said, “I love this weather. I wish I could live in this every day! It’s my favorite!” And I knew she meant it. You can’t fake that kind of happiness. She thought it was absolutely beautiful. She took photos and videos. Gasping in delight.
Normally, I am a person who can’t get enough sun. I feed off of it. I love the colors it creates, in nature, and in my heart. It is a warmth that I crave. But here she was, telling me how beautiful it was, the exact opposite of what I love, and you know, I could start to see it. Yes, it was beautiful. Because now I could see what she sees.
Now, I’m still going to hope for a sunny day. It is, and will always be my favorite. But I can appreciate that she loves what she loves in the very same way that I love what I love. Let’s slow that down a bit. She loves what she loves and it is beautiful. I love what I love, and it, too, is beautiful. That probably works not just for what, but for who…
It’s a pretty big world. Room enough for all kinds of love, I suppose. Maybe we should just let love, simply love.
Yesterday, on the way to the mountains, I was sure that I would see beauty. Of course the countryside, the eight colors of green, the old farm houses, the flowers. I knew it would be beautiful. And it was. Hay wrapped in golden bales, against the green – what a color palette! The smell of lavender in the air. It was expected and it didn’t disappoint.
But there was a moment. A gift really. Nature at its finest. Moving rapidly in the car – wait, goats! My husband slowed down. Backed up. The herd rested gently in the shade. Unafraid. They were unafraid I suppose because of what happened next. A large dog, came barreling toward the fence, near our car. I had only rolled down the window to take a picture, but this dog was having none of it. His bark was not just lip service. He wanted us gone. And right now. We eased the car up the road a little bit and this dog continued. Nothing was going to harm his goats. Our car was bigger, faster…didn’t matter. He could withstand – stand up for – anything! How could we not respect that? We took off down the road, rather quickly and that dog ran alongside as fast and as far as the road allowed. It was beautiful. He had a job to do and he did it. But not just that – he did it with all of his heart and capabilities.
Was that love? Empathy? Loyalty? Courage? What did we just see? I know it may sound ordinary, but trust me, it was something! To stand up for someone who doesn’t look like you, talk like you, live like you. That is something! Are we doing that? Are we? I hope so. For those who can’t fight. Who can’t stand. Are we protecting them? Are we giving them a voice? Oh, I hope we are. I want to.
It’s so easy to say “somebody” should do it. Who is this somebody? Let it be me. I do not have the bark, nor certainly the bite, but I have a voice. I have the words and the paint, and the willingness to tell my story, your story, our stories.
One of my greatest joys is when you see yourself in the words and paintings, maybe for the first time, maybe for the only time, but not for the last time. I love it when I hear, “Oh, that is so me!” “Oh, that’s my story!” “Are you sure you aren’t writing about me?” This, I love. This is me, humbly, running down the side of the road, as fast as I possibly can, so you can be seen, protected, valued.
I have certainly at times been the goat. And I’m so thankful for those who would stop at nothing to protect me. What a gift! I saw them today, at the side of the road. My grandfather. My mother. A few dear friends. My husband. What a beautiful gift! I will carry it with me, and try to do the same, as far as the road, this life, will allow!
I went down to the coffee shop in the hotel. About to rattle off my usual order, (I could say it in my sleep), when I looked up to this face behind the counter. This delightfully unusual grin that not only wished you a good day, but almost dared you to have one! I couldn’t help but smile back. Wearing my badge for the New York gift show, he knew I wasn’t a local. I ordered my coffee, and he said I could probably use a big cookie too. “Oh, no thanks” – I was on a tight budget and the New York prices were, well, New York prices! “Oh, look, my hand slipped,” he laughed and put a cookie into a sack and handed it to me with my coffee.
The cookie was, of course, delicious, but it was this random act of kindness that was even more delicious! I tasted it throughout the day. I hope I passed it on to my customers. I think I did.
The next morning I returned. And there was this face again. How could I be so blessed to start my morning with this extra sun? He was weird and wonderful. Had crazy stories to tell. And so did I! I went every morning that week. I could have gotten coffee anywhere. In New York, you could fall over and be at the next coffee shop. But I went back to this face. On the last day of my show, he handed me a large sack of cookies. “Oooooh my hand slipped! Share with your friends,” he said. And I did. I passed them out at the show, and I was a hero.
If you didn’t know the story, you might ask, “Why would you paint this face?” But now you know. And maybe you see this face differently. Maybe you see this face and think he’s beautiful! I do!
What if we took the time to learn each other’s story? What if our hands slipped away from our phones, our distractions, and we took the time to see each other? Wouldn’t that be beautiful? Maybe even delicious?!!!!
She, at the age of ten, already has a vastly greater grasp of the french language than I do. It is humbling for sure, and that’s not a terrible thing, but sometimes I wonder, what do I have to offer if I can’t convey it? Then we go to the studio. My paint. My brushes. My canvas. This is my language. And she wants to learn. I give her a small canvas and ask her what she’d like to paint. Immediately she looks around – at everything I’ve done. (And that’s when I think, I do have something to offer.) The apples. She wants to paint the apples in a bowl. I place that painting in front of her. Tell her to just draw in pencil at first. Give herself a good start. She chooses the paints. We create a palette. Slowly we go through each step. The light. The shading. The mixing. She is interested. Curious. And she is learning. It is a beautiful thing. We are different in age and culture and language and knowledge, but here, we are one heart, one creation, and that is everything.
It’s not easy to come together. Efforts need to be made. Egos must be put aside. We have to be curious. Interested. Yes, it can be difficult, but the rewards — immeasurable. Stop looking for the things that make us different – because you will find them — it’s so easy. Look for the things that can bring us together. And look again. And again. One creation. One heart. Everyone. That’s everything.
It’s natural to want someone to love what you love. Most afternoons, my husband and I enjoy iced vanilla lattes. I love being the barista. I measure, and pour and stir. The color fits perfectly into my most calming palette. It is cool and soothing, and I’ll say it – extremely delicious! I am proud of it. I delight in it. I want to share it!
When she came over in the afternoon, I thought I would surprise her with this tremendous gift. I was sure she would say, “Wow!” as I do every day with each sip. I poured and measured and stirred with anticipation. Upon entering our salon, I offered up my most treasured afternoon delight. “Oh, no…” she waved it off, “I don’t like milk with my coffee.” Oh, no? How could this be? No wow? I hadn’t seen this coming at all. The conversation moved on and I stood motionless with a latte in each hand.
I’ll admit it stung for a minute. I think my first reaction is, you don’t like me? We probably all have that reaction on some level. This is something, I, we, need to get over. We don’t all like the same things. We don’t even like the same people, but we can still come together. We can still enjoy what we enjoy. And let others enjoy what they enjoy. Believe what they believe. Love who they love. We can do this, if we make the effort.
We all enjoyed a day in the sun. In the pool. I roasted marshmallows over an open flame. Some people love them. She did. I don’t really, and yet she still likes me. I smile. We can do this.
I mowed the lawn yesterday. It’s two hours of pushing, seemingly all uphill. It’s not bad at the beginning. I am plugged into a podcast or music, the sun is shining, and my legs are strong, having forgotten about the last mow. About half way through, it gets hotter, my legs get weaker, but I turn up the volume on the music and trudge on. I push and the mower fills with clippings. I stop. I empty the container. (At the start I lift and dump, and eventually near the end, just kick it until the clippings fall into a pile.) I pull the string to restart. Push, kick. Pull. Push, kick pull. I shove my sweaty hair deeper into my hat, tighten my shorts and keep mowing. My shoulders feel hot. My belly feels empty, and I keep pushing. When about 90% finished, I start to think I’m really going to make it. This time I will finish without having to refill the gas tank. I’m sure I mowed much faster this time and I won’t need to refuel. Yes, just a few more times up and back and… chug, chug, stop. Bad words race in my head. I push the mower to the garage. Lift the gas tank, which now weighs more than I do, refill the tank, pull the string. Pull the string again. And again. It starts. I walk it back and finish the mowing. Done. Sweet and glorious done. I walk the mower back to the shed, not kicking out the last clippings, oh, I’ll do that next time… I take off my gloves, my hat, my shoes, sit at the outdoor table and look at my work. It’s beautiful. Has there ever been a greener lawn? Has grass ever looked so inviting? I mean, it is magnificent! Worth every step. I think that people should see this. Maybe we’ll have a barbecue, with family. They’ll ask if I mowed the lawn and I will beam – yes! of course! Take your shoes off, I’ll say. Drink the wine. Feel that carpet of green. Yes, yes, we will celebrate this mow! It is glorious. It is summer! I stand on grass stained legs, and feel lucky, proud even. I mowed the lawn!
I think of my gay friends. Some people wonder, “Why do they have to have a parade?” Why? Why? Think of all they have been through! All the uphill trudging just to be seen. I am ready to throw myself a parade after mowing the lawn. If they had a “green lawn mowing flag” I’d be waving it up and down the streets of Aix en Provence. Yes, I say! Have the parade! Wave those colors! It’s glorious!
I think of my cancer-surviving friends. Some may wonder, “Do they really need to buy the survivor t-shirt?” Do they?????? Yes! Yes, of course they do! And they should. Cover the world in pink and celebrate each glorious survival! Wear the banner proudly! You did survive! How beautiful is that??!!!! Feel the glorious earth of another day under your feet! You did it. You can feel lucky, proud even! You DID survive!
We shouldn’t be afraid to celebrate our victories, our accomplishments. And we must never block the way of others celebrating theirs. You can join in, or not, but clear the way when the flags of joy are raised. Remember in the book, To Kill a Mockingbird, when Scout, at the end of the trial, is told “Stand up, your father’s passing…” That’s what I think of – when I see the struggles, the trials, you have endured. For you, (and maybe even me), I have nothing but respect. And so I stand.