Sunday, December 3, 2006

a cold morning walk

It was 0 degrees F this morning when I took the dog Pono for his walk. The Arkansas River was so beautiful. There was steam rising from the surface of the water, and all the trees were coated with white frost. I looked downriver, into the sun, and the mist from the water glowed. It was amazing.

On the walk, I ran into another dog owner who I see from time to time. Her name is Laura, and her black lab is named Virgil. She was telling me about an alzheimer's patient who she met through hospice. This woman was elderly, and Laura visited her at her home. She said when she first met this woman, she just thought of her as an old Salida housewife. Something amazing happened during the last visit Laura had with her. The woman was barely lucid when Laura got there. Laura managed to turn the television down, and began looking around the room. She noticed a large number of paintings on the wall. She got up to look more closely at the paintings, and the woman tried to get up, as if she had something important to say to Laura. Laura helped her up, and the woman headed into her bedroom. She was gone a long time, and Laura wondered if she was getting into some kind of trouble. So finally, Laura headed toward the bedroom, to see what the old woman was doing. Apparently, she had a book in her hands, and when she saw Laura, she pushed the book toward her, and indicated it was for her to look at. As Laura leafed through the book, she realized she was looking at an artists' portfolio, and the artist was none other than the woman standing in front of her. This elderly woman, who Laura first thought was a Salida housewife was actually once an accomplished artist. The memory of her art, and the sight of her old paintings caused the woman to begin forming sentences. She was able to communicate to Laura how she accomplished things with her painting, and used analogies that Laura, who is a writer, was amazed by. After a fairly lucid conversation with Laura about art, she looked my friend in the eye and said, "Painting knitted me. It is so sad now, because I cannot do it anymore." Laura asked her why not, and the woman just shook her head. Perhaps, in time, Laura can encourage this woman to go back to her brushes, and find once again the joy she experienced with her painting.

The thing that I find so intriguing about this story is that when Laura first got to the house, this woman was unable to even form a complete sentence. Yet, after the encounter with her old portfolio, it was as though something brought her "back", and she was able to communicate with my friend. I see this as an example of the power of art. I have heard other stories, regarding art, and its ability to connect people and to heal. These are the stories I like to remind myself of, when I begin to wonder why I spend so much time in the studio, brush in hand.

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