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The 7:30 “you’re-late” mark whizzed past me as I got ready for school on Tuesday morning, and I hurriedly twisted my hair into two little unruly knobs behind my ears. I wasn’t particularly thrilled about my appearance, but pulled on my shiny black rain boots and ran out the door. As I braved the crosswalk in the rain with many maple-syrup-scented, mussy-haired children, I was cheerily greeted by a girl named Julia. Whenever Julia sees me, she says nothing but looks askance at me, smiles big and throws her arms open in expectation of the hug that always follows. Our little embrace shifted the path of an otherwise unpleasant morning.
I was further bombarded with “hello Miss Coates!”-es from all sides as I made the trek to my subterranean art cavern, and then again as I carried my cowboy mug to the teachers’ lounge. Even the middle-schoolers muttered some “HeyMissCoates”-es from beneath their shrouds of long hair that are forever hiding their bleary eyes. (Why does it feel as though pigs are flying somewhere when an adolescent boy speaks kindly to me?) As I swirled cream into my coffee, it occurred to me how these mutual recognitions and little greetings-in-passing had made my day’s beginning so very much more bearable, and that they were little gifts from God.
“I like you hair, Miss Coates. It’s really pretty,” he said with a sheepish grin over my shoulder as I finished my sweet potato at the lunch table.
Dear reader, meet Cooper. He is in third grade, is a die-hard Auburn fan, displays the facial expressions of a 73 year old man, crosses his arms knowingly, taps his little sneakered toe and says things like “I think it’s time for you to get a 2000 car soon, don’t you?” He knows that I drive an old pick-up and he might be a little worried about me. “Well, in 2015 when you’re driving a 1971 car, don’t come runnin’ to me.” His eyes positively twinkle, and I love this kid dearly.
“Your earrings are so sparkly!” he offered with an equally sparkly smile as he entered the classroom. As we settled into learning mode, I explained and demonstrated how thorough coloring would make the robot’s feet look sooo much more lively, I heard, “I just love you, Miss Coates,” and he patted my [lower] back sympathetically in a manner similar to that of a concerned aunt. His classmates erupted into laughter and those rollercoaster-y “oooooohhhh”s that I dislike so intensely. His face flushed berry red and his head lowered a bit. As soon as the taunting died down I said, “Cooper, I just love you, too.” “But you’re too old for him!” they cried, and we all laughed.
I took a break from coloring my robot and launched into a mini-sermon on how important it is for us to love each other well, and that it’s one of the big reasons we were even put on this earth. These unsuspecting third graders’ faces were displaying blank stares for the most part, but I could recognize the light of understanding in a precious few pairs of wide eyes.
Van Gogh strung the words together in the loveliest way: “I tell you, the more I think, the more I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.” A friend of mine has posed this question to me a few times: “What do you want your legacy to be?” After thinking about it for a couple of years, my answer has formed into this: I want to be remembered for loving people well through offerings of my creative gifts. They are what God gave to me and I offer them, in turn, so gladly. I hope that when I am remembered, it is for the meals I make, the flowers I arrange, the home atmospheres I create, the music I share, the letters I write, and the art I offer. (And maybe for my curly hair…and my staggering sense of humor…then there’s my obvious knack for comedic timing….oh, and my spelling ability….ummmm, that’s it for now.)
There are so many intricate, winding pathways that lead to loving artfully, and we all go about the business of love from different angles — we show it (and receive it) in various ways, but the emotion ultimately makes its way to the heart of the recipient, despite our bumbling and tripping ways. We hold its beautiful, quiet, but overwhelming power so timidly in our hands and extend it to one another. This is where the art happens. Being an artist of any kind requires equally heavy doses of vulnerability and bravery, as does this hugely complex and deep matter of love. The creative process is much like a relationship in that it is a journey, most times a long, laborious one. The idea or dream of something new grows and develops, then slowly turns into reality as we come to know and understand our subject matter, or our friend or lover. How good of our God to give us unending supplies and time enough, in both the worlds of art and love, to explore the possibilities.