Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Up In Smoke

Last night on the way home I got a call from my daughter who was also driving home from work.  She couldn’t get home because the police had closed the road a mile on either side of the one-lane road that leads to our house.

From conversation with the police officer who was blocking the road, she was able to determine that the cause was a house fire and get the address of the house.  One blessing is that it wasn’t our house.   But the address sounded familiar.

After a short wait, the road opened and we began to make our way home.   That’s when we found out why the address sounded familiar.  The house on fire was our neighbor’s house at the top of the lane. 
As we tried to get to our house, the lane was blocked by fire trucks trying to leave.  Sarah got the closest to our house before she had to pull off the side of the road – a fire truck was parked on our driveway blocking access.  The trucks were wide and the lane is narrow.  So there was a lot of backing up cars and maneuvering to get cars out of the way so the equipment could leave.

Getting home for the three of us was an adventure last night.  But the inconvenience pales in comparison to the loss suffered by our neighbors.  The good news was that fire equipment arrived with-in eleven minutes of the call.  The bad news was that it didn’t make much difference.  The house which has been standing since the 1860s was devastated.  Parts of it still stand, I understand, but I don’t hold out hope for a repair.  The sad thing is my neighbor’s parents bought the house in 1950 and she was raised in it.  I can’t imagine her sense of loss.  Although she and her husband were not at home when the fire started, she lost a pet cat in the fire, which only adds to the sense of loss of memories and material possessions.

All this gives tangible meaning to the expression “up in smoke”.  Circumstances change the course of our lives in the blink of an eye.  It makes me appreciate and have gratitude for the gifts of material comfort and the normal routines in life.  But appreciation and gratitude don't help our neighbors.

I hope we find a way to help them through this as I know they would have helped us.  Here’s hoping for their resilience and for a rapid resolution.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Painting 1 -- First Homework

I was a little nervous about taking an oil painting class.  First it was the usual dread of rounding up all the required supplies (north of $250 worth!).  But more nerve-racking was the worry about having to, first,  draw objects and then to master the seemingly esoteric art of oil painting within the allotted time for in-class and homework assignments.

My nervousness wasn't helped by the fact that my current professor has a completely different philosophy about drawing than the one who taught my one-semester Drawing I class.  Instead of compressed charcoal, we used willow charcoal, which must be pulled -- never pushed to make the lines.  The lines are spider-web light.  He calls it "drawing with air."   The bane of my drawing is that my hand is heavy.  I draw with muscle.  My lines look more like industrial grade electric cords than spider webs.

With the supplies purchased and the first homework assignment done, though, I'm feeling a little better.  Our first paintings (one in class and one for homework) are indirect painting -- painting a value study in shades of burnt umber and, later, adding the hues.  I don't know how the next part will go, but here's the homework value study after about nine hours effort.

With any luck I can calm down and just enjoy the rest of the class.  I think I'll learn a lot one way or the other, which for me, is always fun.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Mortality Meditation

I read a lot of biographies – books and brief on-line bios for actors in old movies I watch.  They all end the same way with the main character dying.  You’d think I’d catch on by now – it’s not exactly a surprise ending.

So why is it surprise when someone close to us dies?  It happens every day. Earlier this week I was surprised when I visited the New Dimensions Media site to learn that its founder, Michael Toms, had died.  I've been listening to his interviews off and on for about 20 years and am a great admirer of his civility to and his presence with guests.  Michael never seemed to be in a hurry and never interrupted his guest.  He just asked a question and fully listened to the answer.  He called it deep listening.  It’s a role model for all of us that are in such a in a hurry to be somewhere else that we can’t appreciate where we are and who we’re with in the moment.

Today, Marcia was surprised by the unexpected death of the husband (Bill) of one of her gardening board friends.  He was recently retired and scheduled for back surgery on Tuesday.  Instead he died yesterday of a massive heart attack.

When someone near us dies, it dispels the illusion that we ourselves are immortal.  It makes us mediate on our own demise, not necessarily in a morbid way, but in a way that, for a brief moment, shakes us from our routine gripes, irritations and complaints and gives us a glimpse of the miracle and gift of life.  It also makes me ponder about what any one person can contribute to the betterment of humanity in his brief moment of existence.    I was surprised how little I could find out about Michael Toms on the Internet given how many lives he has touched world-wide with his life-work.  What hope is there for us who have done far less to advance humanity and the cause of civility on an intermittent, sporadic and provincial basis?

Intellectually I know time is limited.  Even though they don’t know me, Vanguard Mutual Funds tells me my prospect of living forever is not a good bet.

So what is the lesson in all of this for me? Contemplating the end of the story puts the middle (well actually the last 25% assuming a 50% chance of another 20 years) in perspective. And, ironically, its message is to slow down and savor each day -- not to rush to the finish line.  Enjoy family, friends and people around you now.  Be grateful for what you have.  And try to make things a little better for others right where you are.  That’s really all any of us can do.  And if we do that, we can look back at the end of our personal biography to a life well-lived.  If there’s any purpose in the gift of life maybe that’s it – to help others and live well.

Peace Michael, Bill and to the rest of us who will all join you one day – we know not when.