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I glanced over my husband’s shoulder to see what had him so engrossed. He was rereading one of his perennial favorites, The Artist’s Magazine.
I keep telling him he must put down the magazines and pick up the brushes to be effective, but that’s another column. Sensing a spark of interest, he quickly showed me some amazing works of art. But I noted the title of one article and began my own artistic meanderings.
“Draw from Life” was both the name given to the piece and the concept offered by it. Hmmmm...draw from life. Now what can one draw from life at this time of the year, in this place, at this age, in this space? The questions are intriguing.
The first suggestion given to interested students of the arts was to work from live models. A sub-topic asked the reader to conceptualize the masses.
To do that, it is imperative one learn to see. Specifically, keep your eye trained. Learn to notice differences, take note of action, eliminate all distracting details and pay attention to shapes. Feel the energy beneath stillness. Understand values and appreciate soft edges. And finally, as Susan Lyons says, “Try not to paint what other people tell you to—nothing great can happen that way.”
When I hear those words, I do not image nudes posing in studios. Nor do I imagine a plein-air scene replete with easel-bearing individuals seeking their unique “take” on nature’s bounty.
I admire those folks and appreciate their talent, but when I am looking to draw from life, I see the models of profound vitality that cross my path. I see courageous people. I see funny ones who clown with life to give others joy. I see intellectually curious young people who won’t take life for granted.
Instead, they ask more questions than they give—or receive—answers.
I notice many individuals who conceptualize the masses in a positive manner. It is devoid of dread and filled with hope for the future.
They are the ones who refuse to have a half-empty glass of life. They will not permit negativity to cloud today’s potentiality or damage tomorrow’s possibilities. They whistle while they work, not to pretend they are unafraid but to promote faithfulness no matter what happens.
Their smiles are both infectious and contagious, giving light to threatening shadows.
They see goodness in all creation. They seek beauty where others find only ugliness. They bring compassion where competition reigns. They carry kindness to fear-filled spaces and let mercy temper justice. They allow faith to dispel the certitude that causes exclusivity and division among peoples. This beauty is in both the aye and the eye of the beholder.
I draw from their lives to empower my own.
I see my friend Ann who has been battling cancer for a number of years. Her armor in this war against an ever-invading army of cells is hope. Her sword is optimism. Her plan is to live well until she dies.
Ann’s goals change, not because they are unattainable, but as a result of achievement. As each one is reached, death is thwarted and she raises a higher bar. This is not avoidance or denial. This is the radical hope that refuses to set limits.
Ann is suffering badly these days. The enemy has invaded every portion of her body. Literally, she is being eaten away and is wracked with pain.
But, Ann draws from life. She never drains it from others, just keeps drawing on it for restoration and resuscitation. She is fully aware that one of these days, life will be drawn from her.
But in the meantime, she is in charge of its path. In the meantime, Ann continues to review her own life with its ups and downs, successes and failures, trials and errors.
She reviews it so that she can renew it. That is her daily objective: bring newness to each moment of this day. As Ann draws from life, she dips into the massive palette of love and paints with the broad brush of generosity. Her touch is gentle and ceaselessly kind.
Ann gave birth and life to seven children, six of whom are living. She and her husband reared them as well as they knew and could. Now she is grandmother to 11, all of whom she prizes as God’s gifts.
In response, Ann lives so that they might now draw from her life and continue the cycle of receiving, accepting, and sharing graciously.
When last we spoke, our conversation sparkled with laughter, even as tears flowed silently down my cheeks. She told me that chemotherapy is a poison she can no longer tolerate. Radiation has become her last resort
It is an ironic choice—ironic since Ann has spent her life refusing to poison others with limitations while radiating them with her own challenging brand of hope. Nothing is terminal in her eyes.
And I draw from her life to empower my own.
If we take the time to reflect, I am sure that each of us can make a list of other persons who are equally vibrant, equally willing to draw from and to impart life lessons, who are extravagant with their efforts to enter the action of living. They are our models...our heroes...our everyday saints.
As I write this piece, I recall the medical personnel at our local hospital who spend every working—and perhaps waking—moment laboring to retain and regain life for their patients. No procedure is left untried.
In concert, the environmental services make exceptional cleanliness a certainty and food services provide quality nutrition for bodies weakened by illness. Few comment upon their efforts.
Probably, they are viewed as expected, as “part of the job.” But, I have seen the extra steps taken to assure comfort. I have witnessed the compassion beneath the professional competence.
As a member of the Emergency Services recently noted, “There is the thing you do right. And, there is the right thing to do.” I watched as both ideals were accomplished.
My experience leaves me with a single suggestion. Draw from their life to empower your own.
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master's degree in theology and is the author of, AWAKENING TO GOD: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives [a trilogy of scriptural meditations], leadchaplain at Brunswick Community Hospital, religious educator, retreat leader and lecturer.