Updated: May 5, 2019
From time to time we all feel the crush of life. Smothered by the weight of our choices and expectations, and subsequent inadequacies. We're left to ponder our purpose and look for an escape from those feelings of utter worthlessness.
Tree of Hope, Remain Strong by Frida Kahlo (1946)
My niece is currently in that haze. A second year college student experiencing the pressure of life's decisions. She goes to a college that's about an hour and half from my house, which is closer than Long Island where she resides. It's with good fortune that she has us for such an escape route when the walls of higher learning begin to close in.
by Roy Lichtenstein (1963)
I'd like to think it's not just a couple of home cooked meals and a cozy couch that keep her in arm's reach, but that we've become a valuable touchstone for when seas get rough and she momentarily slips beneath the tide.
Without all the details, let's just say she's had one of the most challenging weeks of her early adult life. Having her mom and sister along with my family in reach, we collectively began to weave back together the unraveling of her fragile state.
Through that fog of mental influx and whatever flummoxed emotions, she has the wisdom of knowing she can lean on those who love her. This is counter to most young people who suppress their feelings or are too embarrassed to admit them, doing unrepairable harm to their own mental state.
So seeking respite from school and perhaps herself, she showed up last weekend on my doorstep amidst an emotional tempest.
I was working on a painting at the dining room table as we began to disseminate the crux of her problems. After we had lunch and a plunger pot of Pistachio Creme coffee, my wife and oldest son joined my niece in doodling in one of those adult coloring books at the table.
With minimal amount of banter, they worked on their coloring pages as I picked back up on my painting. My son lost interest after about 15 minutes, but my wife and niece continued on. With intermittent brakes for bathroom or beverages, we all worked diligently on our respective projects.
Time was somehow suspended. Whatever stresses and outside pressures of our lives seemed to dissipate temporarily. Suddenly, the toughest decision facing my niece was choosing a color, not a life path. After some time she rose her head from her coloring book and proclaimed, "I want to paint." As if a soul crying out for spiritual release by way of self expression. Not to mention, I was all to happy to oblige.
I calmly said "We have options, give me a minute. " I went to my studio and gathered up about a half dozen little canvases ranging from 3"×3" to 12"×12". Upon return with a kit consisting of a cup, pallet, brushes and a stack of canvases, I began to explain possible ideas for each. My assumption was that after a solid hour of coloring she might take a shot at one of the smaller canvases and be done with it.
She stopped me mid sentence, "I'll paint them all!"
"Cool" I said without fanfare or caution.
The afternoon was spent working in relative silence with Sam Cooke playing in the background. Conversation was sparse but poignant. For a moment she saw what I saw. She felt what I felt. Painting heals. It's the cause for joy and it's a way to bleed your worries. The sheer therapeutic nature of the act, not the result. It's focusing your resolve and giving yourself over to the infinite opportunities to create beauty, in whatever form that is.
by Robert Indiana (2008)
The paint and sip philosophy is predicated on the notion of celebration, hands down. However, don't diminish the fact that getting a few of your friends and family members together to paint as a process to relieve stress or just heal your spirit is as valuable a solution as perhaps talking to a counselor.
I don't doubt there are problems in our lives too big for art to fix. But for me, I just haven't found them...yet. When I do, painting will be there to give me reassurance and solace. For a moment that Saturday afternoon, I hope my niece saw the value of that. I hope she keeps that tool sharp in her toolbox of coping mechanisms.
Before finally retiring to hang out with my boys and Xbox, she finished 6 paintings in the span of 5 hours.