I had a friend in graduate school, Bill, who, like me, was focused on painting. We both were headstrong, somewhat insecure, and driven to learn our discipline and grow. We respected each other and routinely squabbled as we struggled to articulate our art paths and how they fit into the complexities of both the art world and the world at large. As we achieved our MFAs, our art lives were each suddenly redirected by our relations with intimate partners and young lives for which we were responsible.
We then were out of touch for about 25 years. Living, holding tightly yet tenuously to our individual versions of an art life-line amid all sorts of other concerns and struggles. I reached out when FB was born and we made light contact but never really broached much conversation. There was so much life that had passed for us both, and so much I wanted to discuss, share and learn! It was never to be.
Planning a day-trip to Richmond, I reached out as I’d done before, and typically got no response. The night before the three hour drive I looked him up one more time on FB and to my great sadness his son Miguel indicated he had passed in between when I’d sent my last message to him and that evening. I wrote a brief note of condolence and suggested perhaps one day in the future we might meet up to share stories and maybe work through grief a bit. To my surprise, Miguel wrote back while I was on the way to Richmond the following morning. We hastily arranged to meet, along with his girlfriend Christine, and instantly bonded.
Or I might say, further bonded, as I had met him when he was a toddler, just a few times for brief encounters, as his father and my grad school days were ending. Miguel is a brilliant painter and teacher and Christine has focused on film but both have a breadth of understanding in several fields and wisdom rare for their age. They struck a chord in me with their broad intelligence, clear-eyed sensitivity, compassion, and deep desire to contribute to a better world. In a word they give me hope about our future. I was honored to be at their wedding a few years later. We have been in touch ever since, and in dozens of small yet profound ways they have helped me grow and added a special richness to my life.
Yesterday they made the trip to Roanoke to see an exhibition of my work. An extraordinary bonus was for the first time meeting their five month old son, Nico. We don’t get together often, and the pandemic exacerbated this, yet as usual without hesitation we can effortlessly engage in fun, interesting, and heartfelt discussion for hours. We spoke about family, prejudices, loss, moments of insight, loves. I thoroughly savor their company. Clearly we are all starved for intimacy, touch, and hugs despite (or because of) the questionable, awful notion that these most primal of human needs are something we’ve been told are nowadays to be feared. I’ve also had some recent loss in my family, and have friends who lost dear ones in the same few weeks. The undefinable heavy clouds of grief shadow my recent days.
I realized after they departed that sweet Nico is the first baby I have held in nearly three years. There are no words to express the potency that the light in an infant’s smile brings to one’s heart during such times. There’s no better reminder that the Light is there glowing in us all. We only need to allow ourselves to notice, let our guard down, open our hearts, and let it touch us.
[Exhibit on view at Alexander/Heath Contemporary Art Gallery, ROanoke, VA]