Don’t think about why you question, simply don’t stop questioning. Don’t worry about what you can’t answer, and don’t try to explain what you can’t know. Curiosity is its own reason. Aren’t you in awe when you contemplate the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure behind reality? And this is the miracle of the human mind — to use its constructions, concepts, and formulas as tools to explain what man sees, feels and touches. Try to comprehend a little more each day. Have a holy curiosity.
About 20 years ago I took a photo of my dad not long after mom had died. He was sitting with his back to me slouched down in an old patio chair on the door sill of our den. The door was wide open and he sat partially in, partially out of the house. Next to him was the open door and next to the door was mom’s chair that she used to sit in to rest from her chores or watch tv with my dad. The empty chair faced into the darkened room covered in shadow.
For two decades I kept the photo in the kitchen and whenever it caught my eye, I would linger over it. It was a remembrance of many deeply felt things: the early days of dad becoming a widower, the poignancy of loss, how hard it was for a long time to reconcile the fact of her disappearance to our ongoing lives. It was unsettling and compelling. I knew someday I would do something with that photo besides look at it. Out of the ashes of loss perhaps something better would come.
It took many years. I waited until my dad had also passed before I finally took the photo out of the kitchen and got to work. I had to dig out my old fishing tackle box with all my art supplies from the basement. I was worried that my skills would also require digging out from some equally dusty place to resurrect my long neglected abilities. Regardless, I was on a mission to draw my dad in that old aluminum chair with the crisscrossed straps no matter what came of it.
I had my doubts I could come close to recreating what I saw in the photo but after many huge sighs I started with the back of his broad head, shading in his mostly black hair, moved to his torso, filling in where the chair straps held his body, agonized over the shape of the back of his arms and legs, lightly sketched in his feet with no shoes. Although it started out very tentative and rough I gradually began to see him sitting in that chair and as he did so I found myself asking him questions. How’s the afterlife? Is it what you were expecting? What are you doing right now? I paused for answers even though I heard no response. But I had the strange sensation that he was listening.
There is a quiet, meditative feeling that goes along with drawing. It slows down words. Like walking into a sanctuary a hushed reverence takes over. Thoughts become quieter so as not to disturb what your hand is doing. While I was under such a spell a word dropped into my mind. Receiver. I wrote it down on a piece of paper. What did that mean? Like in a stereo system? As I continued to fill in shapes and shadows, it slowly dawned on me that the word described something my dad modeled for me all my life. In fact he was doing it in the photo. He would often take long stretches of time to sit and to think. He showed me that there was something worthwhile about giving the mind time to wander. I would often find him in a chair silently staring off into space. My mom would exclaim she had no idea what he was thinking about.
“Life is a mystery,” he would often say to me. What he didn’t say, but showed me instead, was that you need to position yourself to listen for clues. Settle into a chair. Make your mind a question mark. See how the universe responds to your patient expectation of a response.
Drawing my dad resurrected him. His disappearance was reversed as he appeared before my eyes beneath my pencil. Oh, there you are, dad. That’s how you looked that day. I remember now. The stab of grief that came soon thereafter took me by surprise.
But I felt him draw near as I drew near. By taking the time to recreate him, my mind unencumbered by too much thinking, I was able to settle in and measure what was lost through death but also what was gained by our lifetime together.
Catch you on the flip side, dad.