This painting springs from my years of being a butterfly monitor. Those were glorious years that I was fortunate enough to be able to share with my children. I couldn’t give them all the freedom and wild nature that I grew up with, as it is largely gone. But thanks to the foresight of the Forest Preserve District I could get them out into what remains.
Here is a small painting fresh off the easel so I can share one of these preserves with you, too. Rollins Savanna is a gorgeous piece of land that was once a farm. Situated between 3 violently growing suburbs, I thought for sure it was doomed. I am so thankful that, instead, it has been set aside as a Forest Preserve. Drainage tiles were broken, bringing back ribbons of ground water which in turn have attracted ground nesting birds and water birds. Grand old oaks spread out their limbs here, reaching first to the sky and then stretching all the way to the ground. Majestic. Life is good.
But it isn’t, for everybody. The gallery that represents me is located in Chicago, so every so often I must drive downtown, through neighborhoods where there aren’t a lot of birds singing. In the newspaper there are frequent articles about the youth self-destructing in the South side of Chicago. I just finished reading a book about the nature of life on Earth, and the author made mention of future discounting. In particular he spoke of the youth in Chicago! He made the point that if a person doesn’t believe in a future, they will act with shocking short-sightedness. Immediate returns become precious: get your girlfriend pregnant (pass on your genes), kill the guy who just insulted you (defend your ego at all costs). Stores have all packed up and fled the violence, schools are being closed, and the people who live there don’t see any other reality beyond poverty, drugs and guns. Can’t you just hear the thoughts running through their minds? How do you have a dream of your own when it’s kill or be killed out there?
Don’t get me wrong. Chicago is a beautiful city with a lot of good going on. My concern is that the good stuff isn’t available to the people who need it so desperately. We don’t see African Americans at restoration workdays. Nature Preserves are pretty far from their world. I don’t know what the solutions might be. I’m a country mouse that doesn’t have much influence in an urban environment. But what strikes me is the parallel with Buddhist teaching, that it is our thoughts that cause suffering. If a person is busy being tormented with thoughts of despair, it will be impossible to, say, come up with a small business plan that does not involve guns or drugs or prostitution. I’m not sure they need a bunch of white folks descending on them to ‘fix’ things. I believe they need a way to think new thoughts, to dream.
I’ve been shy about sharing this piece, because it arose from a dream I had while in therapy some years back. In the dream, I’d been sent to the store on an errand and a force was resisting my efforts to close the door. After a bit I realized that it was God, trying to shine love in my life, and there I was trying to close the door!
What prompted me to bring this up today is a desire to celebrate the amazing progress my daughter is making. We’ve been working our way through the book, “The Woman Who Changed Her Brain”, by Barbara Arrowsmith -Young. If you know anyone who suffers from learning disabilities, I cannot recommend this book enough.
Every morning we run through a series of brain exercises that were developed by the author. Progress was slow at first- well, you’d expect that. But now, a year later, I’m watching her make connections with abstract ideas her doctors had said she’d never be able to do. She’s even memorized the poem , “Invictus”!
So there you go. No matter how completely the path before you appears to be blocked, do not give up.
There may not be any new paintings for awhile. This morning, much earlier than I am accustomed to, I awoke to an odd gurgling sound. With drips and splashes as accompaniment. Hmmm. Thinking I’d better see what that was all about I headed for the basement and, “oh nooooo”. Like thousands of others today, I awoke to find my basement awash in flood water. Well, no. We were lucky. Our’s was rain water, 4″ of it. But we saw video of people facing many feet of dirty water swirling up their basement stairs. A sink hole in Chicago swallowed 2 cars and a pickup. And this was just days after the tragedy in Boston. I also read about a factory that blew up in Texas today. whew.
So I’m sitting here thinking about all of that. How fragile is the veneer of civilization that we rely on, and how quickly it can be torn away. This morning (On my way to Panera for badly needed coffee and chocolate, after hours of bailing water) I heard parts of the memorial service held in Boston today. It was deeply moving to hear the perspectives of Jewish, Muslim and Christian people speaking from their hearts and offering prayers. In different ways, they were saying that we must find the courage to keep loving, refuse to let bitterness and fear into our hearts and thoughts. I particularly liked what one said; that our loving Creator allows brief blasts of darkness into our world, not to hurt us but to strengthen us. How many times have you seen it, people rising to the occasion to help others when dreadful things happen? Like a plant that must face wind to be strong and to become what it is meant to be, he was suggesting that we as people and as communities need that dark thread running through the beautiful pattern that goodness weaves. I’m not putting it nearly as well as he did, but I hope I am conveying what I think he meant. He said that not only can the darkness never extinguish the Light, in trying to do so, it can only strengthen it.
And so tonight I am sitting here in my snug room pondering what all happened today and recently. Knowing I am fortunate to have my warm bed waiting for me, knowing I could lose it and everything else in a moment, and hoping I will have the courage to hold my heart open and soft, and to be of service to others when the need arises.
This is how we can keep weaving the beautiful tapestry of Light.
To end on a hopeful note, here is a very rare lady indeed, preparing to lay her eggs. Life, and love, will always find a way.