Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Opening new doors in uncertain times, and. a lesson from Grandpa...

My two daughters at a colorful door in Greece. 

A few years ago on a trip to Madrid, we unexpectedly stumbled onto a Spanish artist's home and museum. His name is Joaquin Sorella and is pretty much unknown outside of his native Spain. He was an Impressionistic artist who was fascinated with light and very much influenced by Monet. On the day I discovered him, I was riveted by his luminous paintings. Somehow the light and sun in his paintings filled me up and gave me remembered warmth. In case you want to read more about Sorella, here is my blog: Joaquin Sorella: Painter of Light

Since I have spent some time painting, I was interested in what he had to say about how to navigate a painting or how to start the process on the canvas. A quote in his museum describes his approach to painting, "You do not need to know what your picture is eventually going to look like. Just watch the picture that is coming and emerging. It will come together, and you will be happy."

If I could make an analogy to art and life, it would be that we need to be more comfortable with the paintbrush or tools we have been given and blessed with. Life does not give us a manual for all our decisions. Will the painting be executed in the exact way we intend or want? Probably not. But we have it within us to make a grand, glorious, and gorgeous masterpiece--if we choose--much more beautiful than if we painted it by ourselves. If we push aside our tentativeness, we can open doors that bring us to places where darkness falls away and light descends in the crevices. 

I have to say in the painting (my son with autism) and I do together, we have gessoed a lot. Gessoing means you use white, thick paint (gesso) to cover part of the painting you do not like or want to be there anymore. Sometimes we have gessoed the entire canvas several times--starting over and over again. As I have taught young teenagers art, I reassure them with their discontent about their painting, "You can begin again. Nothing is really permanent." They look at me sometimes with a surprised or incredulous look and say, "Really? I can do it again?" The answer is yes, Just gesso what you don't want and start over. It is a liberating thought for them. And it holds true in our lives too. If we don't like the colors, perspective, or texture we have been using, we can change it. Another door can open. We don't have to stand outside dissatisfied and unfilled. There is a rescue on the other side of the door.

We need to be nimble and willing to see with new eyes. The process requires a tenacious determination to understand when and where we need to go in another direction--just like a painter works on different parts of the canvas. Perhaps we need to stand back and pause a moment at our emerging masterpiece--to recalibrate, recharge, and look for what is missing before we pick up the paintbrush again. Pausing to see the perspective is important as we live in the process of becoming. Perhaps we need to try another brush or mix a new color of paint.

One of the great friends of my life was my father-in-law, Hyrum Smith Shumway. He was blinded about six weeks after he landed on D-Day in Normandy, France at age 22. He helped to liberate several French villages that still celebrate and revere him today as he tried to lead his group of soldiers across France to Paris. He was young, fearless, and strong. But he was uncertain as he fought in France that he would ever go home again. However, he hung on, believing and having hope--even when he was blinded--that God had a purpose for him. He was brought to a make-shift hospital in Normandy, and then secretly taken across the channel to a hospital in England. Months later he sailed to America on the Queen Elizabeth ship with other wounded soldiers. For the next two years, he would be in rehabilitation in America. 

It is interesting to read his autobiography and see the developing character on the canvas in a young man who had experienced tremendous trauma. I am sure as he looked at his life, he saw so many doors closed to him that were beckoning before his accident. The emerging person, like a painting in progress, was taking shape. He later said that when he was lying on the ground after the landmine exploded next to him, that he wasn't sure he was going to live. He knew his life was in balance. But he said a prayer, and begged, "God, I want to live. I think it is possible because I took a breath. I want to live." 

At the time he was laying beside a hedgerow in Normandy, he did not know in his darkness that blindness would be his fate for the next 67 years. From his words later, he wrote that he became discouraged and frustrated with all the doors that seemed slammed shut for him.  It was a blow like a hammer to hear in an English hospital that he would have a permanent life of physical darkness. He had wanted to be a doctor and knew the dream was over. Nightmares of battles and warfare stalked him for many years. However, little by little, or brushstroke by brushstroke, he repeatedly turned to God in the uncertainties and darkness.

Much later, after he had learned to push and tug at some doors to be opened, he succinctly summarized his life, "I might not have sight, but I have insight." Indeed, he was happy, even joyful with his life,  and radiated an uncommon cheer I have seldom seen. His life was a masterpiece--created with ambiguity and darkness. With uncertainty and new doors, grasping for his answers, he found light. He continues to teach me that sometimes as we turn to the darkness, (and we must know darkness to know light), the light is switched on and dimness disappears. Yet, most of the time, our questions are answered by the sunrise/sunset variety. The door opens ever so slowly, little by little, impression by impression, and then we create a beautiful masterpiece.on our canvas of life. 


                       My father-in-law,  H. Smith Shumway, who learned how to be certain in uncertainty. 

Thanks, Grandpa, for your example in complete darkness and in uncertain times. It makes me remember to pause, stand back, and see the whole perspective--to not be afraid to open unknown doors. And as Joaquin Sorrella said, the beautiful masterpiece we wanted all along will come.  

         A few favorite doors of mine... What doors are you planning                                                on opening soon?

The Alhambra in Spain

 Marrakesh, Spain

                                                  A farmer's shed in Sierre, Switzerland
                                   In front of Rembrandt's house in Amsterdam, Holland

                                                  With this door, I received a new son...

                                                             The portals of Egypt

                                                                     Egypt beckons...

                                                  At the  Shiek Fasel Musem in Doha, Qatar

                                                         Notre Dame, Paris France

                                                                      Sofia,  Bulgaria

                    Normandy, France--talking to an eye witness of World War II on his farm who knew                                                                                  Joseph's father. 


                                                           At the art barn, Teton Valley, Idaho

                                            Henry David Thoreau's house at Walden Pond, Massachusetts

                                                       Shakespeare's house, Stratford, England

At Shangrila, China, on the border of Tibet

                                     Paris Temple for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

                                          Meeting new friends in Doha, Qatar at their home

                                                     A welcome door in Stockholm

        Some dear French friends in Normandy who have taught us about the French generosity of spirit.

The colorful houses of Capetown, South Africa

The Ypres, Belgium cathedral that was burned to the ground in World War II, and then was built up again.

Beijing hutong or house. Red banners are put on the outside of houses for the New Year saying the family wants peace and prosperity. Often, they are left up all year long.

                              Shoes being left out of a mosque in Doha, Qatar during the prayer time

Istanbul, Turkey

My mother giving our sons a pioneer tour in Pleasant Grove, Utah

                         Doha, Qatar (This was not my house when we lived in Qatar). Ha!

                                                                            Marakesh, Morocco

One of the reasons I love the Middle East and North Africa so much was their rich motifs and designs. I was endlessly fascinated by how they fit geometric spaces together.

                                                                    Lake Como, Italy

                                                                        Lake Como, Italy

Marrakesh, Morocco

                                                                   Budapest, Hungary

                                                                       Seville, Spain

                                                                The  Alhambra, Spain

                                                                        Marrakesh, Morocco 

Aix-de-Provence, France. What a door! I wonder how many times this door has been opened?

Our Doha house door, and our little, delightful neighbor who would always visit us to show us his artwork (even at 7 am) Of course, I adored his every effort. He was often rewarded with small gifts. I could never resist his dimpled smile. 

    My grandmother's house in Springville, Utah. This door opened to a magical and enchanting world--a                                 place where childhood was sacred and joy was always to be found...

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