Brokenness and Beauty; Grief and Hope

Papa and I had a wonderful lunch together in 2017 at The Modern restaurant at the Museum of Modern Art– a fabulous day!

This has been a deeply sad week for me. My father died last Monday, Memorial Day, which seems fitting for a veteran. We had some very good times, and I am overflowing with wonderful memories, both from my childhood and from more recent years. Sadly, though, we also had times throughout my life when there was tension between us. The last two years were not good for us, though thankfully in his final weeks I felt that we had some renewed connection. It still does not seem possible that he is no longer here; I was so hoping for more time to reconnect, to hear his stories, to show him my sketchbooks, to sit with him watching the birds and chipmunks he so enjoyed.

I was thinking during the weeks of my father’s recent decline about how all people are both broken and beautiful; broken by others or by their own choices, beautiful because all people are created in the image of God and bear something of that image, no matter how broken they may be. That was very true of my father; he had significant brokenness that, along with my own brokenness, strained our relationship, but he was also an extraordinary person with many talents, who was people-oriented and generous. I am thankful for many of the interests and abilities that I carry on from my father and, going forward, I hope to pursue them in his honor and to God’s glory.

Here is what I wrote to be shared at his funeral:

I’ve often been told I look like my father. I don’t know if I do or not, but I know I am like him in many ways, and Papa is a big part of who I am. I owe much of my love of nature and appreciation for and beauty to Papa. I still picture walking with him in Butler Sanctuary, admiring a long black snake draped across the rocks on Blacksnake Hill; finding morels on a steep, rocky slope; picking bayberries to make bayberry candles. One day when he and I walked in our own woods, an enticing scent suddenly caught my attention, and I turned to see oyster mushrooms climbing a dead tree. FIVE POUNDS of oyster mushrooms, as Papa often told me with delight and obvious pride in me for finding them. I think of that day with Papa every time I see oyster mushrooms.

I remember the day not so many years ago when Papa took me to an exhibit of Van Gogh drawings and paintings. We went through the entire exhibit together, quietly discussing many of the pieces, then decided to go through separately to each study our favorites. I focused on a number of drawings and a few paintings; Papa just sat in front of his favorite, a large, colorful painting, silently observing it, deeply appreciating the opportunity to simply enjoy it. I so admire his ability to sit quietly, whether observing a painting; watching a hummingbird hovering in front of him; or taming the chipmunks that gamboled by his feet, on his hands, even in his shirt pockets.

Papa, like most of us, was a complex person with a blend of strengths and weaknesses and, sadly, he and I had a frequently strained relationship. He didn’t always show an overabundance of sensitivity to others’ emotions, but one occasion will always stay with me. I’d heard at the bus stop that a black and white cat had been hit by a car a ways up Chestnut Ridge Road. As soon as I got home I told Papa, and he immediately drove me up there. I had been wondering if it was our semi-feral Bilateral Symmetry, but when we drove past on the other side of the road, I stiffened as I saw a long-haired cat lying beside the road—Dis? Papa turned the car around and stopped by the cat. It was indeed my beloved Dis. We drove home, me in tears with Dis on my lap, then Papa dug a grave in a beautiful spot in the woods by the rhododendron-covered pathway. Papa took Dis’s body, laid her gently in the grave, covered her with dirt. He spoke with me some about death; I don’t remember specifics, but I have always remembered with gratitude what he said right afterwards—that he had buried Dis facing east with her head uphill.

Papa, I trust that on the last day you will rise up, facing east and rejoicing to see Christ come to take us home. I love you always and will be looking for you then.

Papa watching the birds and chipmunks- something I loved doing with him
Papa singing “Amazing Grace” with my mother and siblings two days before his death (I was “there” via Zoom)
The last card I painted for Papa


More Front Porch Sketches

As the days warm up (at least for this week, who knows what next week will bring), more people and dogs are out enjoying the fresh air, sunshine, and quarantine-quiet roads. And I continue to enjoy watching and sketching many now familiar figures, as well as new ones.

Today was my weekly Quiet Day– a sabbath-like day I take most Saturdays to read, pray, and generally rejuvenate myself, as I relish God’s gift of rest and refreshment in a time of solitude and silence. And of course sketching is a part of that. Somehow when I pick up sketchbook and pen, I almost invariably find myself praying for at least some of time I’m sketching, sometimes in words of praise and worship, sometimes in prayer for others, and often just in quiet communion with God– prayer without words.

Some of my sketches “turn out,” others barely look like people, but all help me to see the dozens of people who go by as individuals, each unique in some way or another, each bearing the image of God in their being. For me, this season of Covid seems to be a time of focusing on people, whether my son and his family whom I’m here to help; or our other children and grandchildren in Texas, dealing with homeschooling all of a sudden, and North Carolina, adjusting to a new baby; or neighbors walking by, some of whom I meet as I walk my dogs; or my family at home in New York caring for my aged and ailing father; or the many people I know who are ill or at-risk or lonely because of Covid. Sketching my neighbors walking by is a daily reminder to consider all these people, those whom I know and those whom I have not yet met, and bring them before our loving God in prayer.

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Happy 15th Birthday, Petra!

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Happy Birthday to our Petra Sweetie!

Here are a few recent photos of our sweet Petra. She’s doing wonderfully for her age; she sleeps more, is mostly deaf, and is a bit arthritic, but she still walks a few miles with me most days and runs and plays and keeps Ramble in line. After nearly losing Petra a couple of times due to illness or injury, we are grateful for every day we have with her and we’re hoping to have plenty more days, months, and even years with her.

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Front Porch Sketches

I’ve been in Maine for a couple of months helping take care of our young granddaughter while our preemie twin grandsons are in the NICU. In these days of Covid quarantine and distancing,  there are few cars and many pedestrians in the neighborhood where I’m staying in a rental house. Since I’m babysitting weekdays, I’m not usually able to get into a painting frame of mind., but  I often start my day sipping tea on the porch and sketching people as they walk their dogs,  jog, meander by, or work in their yards. Here are a few of my front porch sketches.