Friday, November 20, 2009
This week I am working on a new painting of Courthouse Rock in Sedona, AZ. My wife and I visited Sedona for our 10 year wedding anniversary in October, and we had a chance to do some wonderful hikes and take our little son Liam along with us. For years I have been a little angry with myself that we'd always just driving through Sedona on the way to Flagstaff, but never really spent much time in Sedona or visited it's best sites. So this time we got it right, and it's no hollow irony because thats kind of thing is exactly what I was thinking about as a subject for this blog.
I remember a quote from Socrates that I read in college - he said something to the effect that the needs of the body always get in the way of true enlightenment. As I remember the context of the quote, Socrates actually meant the need for food, sleep, and shelter, basic things. And the seeking of those things took significant time away from reflection and / or the achievement of great things with the mind. After the year that I have had, with the discovery of the tumor in my back in late June, and the subsequent recovery process after surgery - I have thought about this a lot, and found myself wondering to what extent physical setbacks affect all of us, and keep us from grabbing hold of our dreams.
This question I floated to myself came right back at me just a few weeks ago, when my mom called. She sounded exhausted, and the tone of her voice told me that something was going on and it wasn't good. Of course your heart races when it's your mother - or anyone you love for that matter - and she told me that she had been diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, or R.A. as we commonly know it. She had had a lot of aches around the different joints of her body, and most especially nagging pain in one of her feet. She also told me that prior to the diagnosis, she was fearful that she was getting depressed - only to learn later that the intense feeling of depression is yet another symptom of R.A. Of course, we had a number of conversations about what to do from here, with me peppering her with questions for her doctors about her quality of life, and what could she physically expect down the road. But underlying all this, and it wasn't lost on my mom, was that she wanted me to know because, with her diagnosis, we now know that R.A. runs on BOTH sides of my family. My Grandfather on my dad's side had R.A. He was a very heavy drinker and had told family members that it was the only thing that numbed his pain. Of course in the years when he was alive, there was probably very little else BUT drinking that one could do. And we know that though my father and his brother do not have the disease, both of their sisters do. And now on the other side of the family, my mom as well.
Now of course only a selfish person would get lost in the "What does this mean for me?" question, but my mom put all this together immediately after her diagnosis, and wanted me to know because this serious condition is now, we know, on both sides of my family. My mom is 54 years old, and I am 34, so though there is an age gap - we are not talking an astronomical number of years. I had to ask myself, if R.A. were in my future, what does that mean for the here and now?
When you think of these things it goes without saying that you risk stumbling over a million overused cliches. That's why I thought of the title "It's Now or Never...and it Always has Been". Because its just true. Every one of us is guilty of banking a little bit on time. If we are 30 we say to ourselves "well I'm not 40 yet", or if we're 40 we say "I'm not 50", and so on and so on. Yet I keep thinking that we could only benefit by a redoubled effort to live in the here and now, and never to take one single moment for granted. No cliches necessary. We really, truly don't know what hazards lie in our bodies, or out there in the world waiting for us. And because we don't know, every ounce of experience should be squeezed from this day, today.
On a Monday in late June of this year, as some of you know, I had a call from a neurosurgeon telling me that I had a sizable tumor on my spinal chord. I learned all this on a Monday, and was going to be rushed to surgery on Friday of that same week. That Tuesday, I sat down to sketch out a large painting of the Gaudi cathedral in Barcelona, Spain - the "Sagrada Familia". I did it partially in anger at myself. I had been wanting to paint this amazing structure for two or three years. Over and over again it got put off so I could work on more conventional subjects that I was known for. But that Tuesday I made a promise to myself, that I would never put off things I love so long. I had all the irrational thoughts one might have just before surgery, like "If I never wake up from the anesthesia, I will have never painted that damned cathedral!" So I took that first step in keeping the promise to myself, and I am happy to report that the finished "Sagrada Familia" painting will be debuted at my December 10th show at the Tansey Gallery in Tucson.
And now, as I think of the promises I must keep to myself and my loved ones - I find myself thinking of those old photos of the painter Renoir, taken when he had begun to suffer severely from arthritis. His knuckles were huge knots, and his fingers were curled up underneath. Still he strapped his paintbrushes to his hands, and made some very beautiful works in his later life. R.A. is not the end of my mom either, and for her, like so many, the question is what to do now in order to have the best quality of life down the road.
Renoir probably would have told us, that down the line we might ALL be strapping our brushes to our hands, for one reason or another; but there is no reason that we can't still make great works. My mom, Paula Shores, still has many great works in her - of that I'm sure. And she has taught me that, no matter what, the NEXT "Sagrada Familia" ought not have to wait three years to be put on canvas.
Here's to my mom, and all the moms out there - little does it know, that R.A. doesn't stand a chance against a feisty little Southern lady. :)