Light The Promise [on Two Artists Tuesday]

luminaria box2 copy

 

I came into Kerri’s life in the same era that her children, all grown up, moved away to pursue their careers. Our third Christmas together was the first time that neither Kirsten or Craig would be home for the holiday. It was the first without her mother. It was an empty nest Christmas, a broken heart holiday, and unbearable for Kerri. Not knowing what to do with the infinite void, she told me that she wanted to start a new tradition. And, like all good new traditions, she reached deep into the recesses of her childhood and pulled one of her parent’s traditions into the present. We initiated a neighborhood Christmas Eve luminaria party.

After she plays the late service on Christmas Eve, we rush home, change clothes, and with aid of John and Michele, pull the fire pits and a few tables onto the driveway. We load the tables with snacks and wine, start a fire, and line the street with luminaria. Our neighbors and friends gather around the fire, drink grog, tell stories, laugh a lot, and sing a song or two. Last year was bitterly cold and still we stamped our feet and stoked up the fire until the wee hours.

This year will be our 4th annual luminaria party. It is my favorite part of the holiday because it reaches to the very root, to the ancient reason for the season’s celebration. A gathering under the stars, amidst the wood smoke and wine, together we bring an infusion of hope to bridge the infinite void, the aching hearts, with the promise of light’s return.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE LUMINARIA PARTY

 

TangoMorsel copy

this one is sold but there are others available and on sale through December 20

 

chicago at christmas website box copy

 

Touch The Arc

A painting I did twenty years ago of my dad.

Years ago I started a portrait of my dad (we call him Columbus) emerging from – or returning to – a cornfield. At the time it seemed an odd painting, something more elemental than intellectual. Something I had to paint though I didn’t really know why. I thought I’d left portrait painting far behind. Columbus is from a very small town in Iowa so the necessity of the cornfield made some small sense. He yearned to live in the town of his birth and although life took him other places he maintained a deep heart-root to Monticello. For Columbus, Monticello, Iowa was and always will be home.

After laying it out, after applying the under painting, the portrait felt complete – or I felt complete. So, I stopped. I have carried it with me all of these years.

These days, dementia has its slippery tentacles around Columbus. He is a mighty combatant in this tug of war, a war that he cannot win, and feeling his strength waning, his single wish was to one last time visit Monticello. So, this past week, Kerri, my mother, and I – as Kerri likes to say – followed Columbus’ heart around Monticello.

His heart took him three places. The first was to the cemetery. It is the place he will finally rest with his brother, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and friends. He wanted to wander. We followed him as he touched stones and told stories – stories he told to us but for himself: a friend who died too young in a car crash, a kind scoutmaster and mentor, an old girlfriend, a high school pal who flew an airplane and their adventures landing in cornfields. We followed, listening, renewed to the deeper truth that the stories we tell of others, the stories of shared time and experiences, both comic and tragic, when combined, scribe the arc of our own lives. Columbus needed to go to the end place to scribe his arc, to touch the depth and arc of his experiences.

The second place was the house that his grandpa Charlie built. It was the place of his childhood, the place of his greatest freedom, the place where all his stories begin and, now I know, where they return. This house is the cornfield. It is, for Columbus, the font of family and the source of his ideals. It is the symbol of his pride. This small house, with no electricity or running water, no indoor plumbing, this house that was pieced together with found material, smacked together with a handsaw and a hammer, an evolution, this house is Columbus’ holy ground. It still stands, just barely. And although now a storage shed for someone, it holds riches beyond words or measure. Columbus needed to stand in the source of his belief.

Finally, we followed his heart to visit his aunt JoAnne. She is only two years his senior but his aunt never-the-less. She is the last living person to know him through the entire passage of his life. She is his connective tissue, the one capable of affirming that it all happened, that the house and the people in it were exactly as he remembers, that this life, although only a minute long, is bottomless in the love that they share. They are the burning point of family, the front line. When we left her, Columbus and JoAnne hugged and cried, saying to each other but not for a moment believing it, “I’ll see you again.”

Stories told at the end place. Stories told from the beginning place. Stories told that connect the places. Columbus counts himself a lucky man. He knows with absolute certainty the trinity of places that hold his life/story. Sitting on the porch he (once again) taught me that stories – lives – are like a river and the flow transcends a single life. He just taught me that the story, a good life, like the painting, is never really complete.