I sat toward the back of the auditorium, a full 3 rows between me and the next actual human being. It was only about a quarter full, anyway, having been used for larger sessions earlier in the day, and now was my destination for a smaller class. The room felt sparse. My heart did, too.
I’m a back-row kinda gal anyway, but especially so on this day. It was early October of 2001, and we all were still shaken and fragile. Also, I had added a third child to my repertoire just that June, a week before my 30th birthday. Significant changes in relationships, which always seem to affect me most of all, had taken place that year. Any time I had for introspection quickly left me in a place where I felt unsure. Of myself, of my life, of my work. And time, that day, was something I had plenty of.
I had traveled, along with four friends and fellow artists, to California. Are you crazy? people kept saying to us, you’re going to get on a plane and fly across the country? Now? And we were crazy, a little. I don’t think any of us had any real hesitation once all the airlines were flying normally. None of us had ever been to California. And we really wanted to go.And so we went. To Laguna Beach, California. We stood on the beach while the sun set over that breathtaking coast. We ate incredible food. We laughed and talked. And we went to this conference on art in a beautiful little church that seemed more like a gallery; beautiful pieces and paintings were everywhere. The first day, when we walked in and looked around for seats, I remember my friend Josh saying, you guys, look. We turned, and across the entire back wall of the sanctuary hung a huge painting, made to look like da Vinci’s The Last Supper. Only, in this painting, every disciple was of a completely different nationality. We all walked back and just stood in front of it, taking the beauty of it in. The days were full of moments like that.
Which makes it all the more incredible that two days in, there I sat in self-imposed exile. Sulking, really. Unable to drag myself enough out of myself to see, or hear. The speaker began his session with a suggestion for us to move in closer. I rolled my eyes.
Then, he gave us a question to discuss – and it was a doozy, one of those great questions that make you wish you had a better answer. Pick one of the following book titles to describe the way your life, your work, feels to you right now.
Oh, I thought, that’s a really great question and I would love to discuss it, but oh, look, there’s nobody beside me so I guess I’ll just have to pass. Too bad!
Well, too bad for me, apparently. Because that next human being, the one three rows up, decided to turn around and move back three rows.
I can see that you don’t want anyone to talk to you, he said smiling, but I’m going to anyway. Just so that we can answer the question.
So he did, and we talked, and I’m sure I picked the most depressing book title on the list, although I can’t remember what it was now. I can be a little dramatic. Sometimes. And we got done with that and he moved back up and that was all over.
Except that the speaker just kept doing it. And finally after moving back and forth a couple of times, he just stayed and we listened to the rest of the lecture. Finally, he introduced himself to me. I’m Hyatt Moore, he said, I’m a painter.
Like a house painter? I asked.
No, he said, not that kind. I painted that painting over there in the back of the church.
Turns out that Hyatt lives in the area, but that he has lived all over the world, because he is retired from being the president of Wycliffe Bible Translators, among other things. And now he’s an artist. And so is his wife.
So then he asks me what I do. I think it may have been at this point that I started to cry. Somehow I tried to articulate who I was and what I did, but it came out in a garbled mess of talking about my three little children and how unsure I was of who I was and how, really I should spend my time. Shouldn’t I just drop all this “artist” silliness and hunker down with them at home? Frankly, I can’t believe he didn’t throw a Kleenex in my general direction and skedaddle.
Instead, he said – What if you gave a gift to someone you really loved, and they said thank you, but then turned around and put it on a shelf and didn’t open it? That’s the same thing you do to God when you don’t use the gifts he’s given you. So use them. You have to grow your gifts as you grow your children. It’s not one or the other.
It was the thing I needed to hear right where I was, and it is one of the things I still hold on to. A foothold when I feel unsure.
So I’d like to introduce you to my friend Hyatt and his wife Anne. I wish you could meet them face to face, like the Eubanks did over this past weekend. But in lieu of that, get their regular updates on art and thoughts on beauty. You’ll feel like you know them soon enough; and that’s, let me tell you, is a really good thing.