I hopped on a plane, with my packed-to-the-brim art kit and my warm winter coat, for two weeks of life as artist-in-residence at Tribute Heritage Village, an assisted living + dementia care community in northern Virginia.
My twin sized bed brought me back to being a little girl again. A once-lost innocence, laying awake at night listening to the sounds of twenty-four hour care - to the hum of those who live slow and still and quiet.
Ms. Glen, standing at a whopping four foot, nine inches, tells me she lost her son, Steven, a few years back in a car accident - that is now a story I'm honored to know. A story that hammers a new notch in the woodiness of my perspective on grief and loss, on the human experience in its entirety. To know that she too loves the hum of a great dinner party with old fashioneds flowing. ("the cherry is the most important part", she reminds me.) That poetry was her most vital creative outlet, lifeblood more like it, over the years raising her boys. Her words are her legacy. Words and old fashioneds.
That keeps me painting.
Paul, who even at the end of his life, chooses to fly the lobster in from Maine, pair it with a buttery chardonnay (a requisite of the whole shindig), stack biscuits high, tie plastic bibs around our necks and demand only one small thing of his guests: silliness. He toasts to friendship and laughter and good food and overflowing wine.
That is living light, y'all.
Marie, from Austria, who lived around the corner from me on the third floor - sharing elevator rides down to get our first cup of coffee in the morning, always mentioning something lovely she'd noticed about the day (even as it'd barely begun). Who from the moment I met her, pressed on me like ink to a page, the value of approaching each day with gratitude and grace.
Here's the thing about plucking yourself up out of the cozy, run-of-the mill "everyday", and plopping right down into the unfamiliar, those spaces that make us unsure, unsettled, unconsciously and brilliantly vulnerable. It opens up new spaces for aliveness.
Here's what it was like, setting up shop in a studio along the main drag of a dementia care center in the middle of nowhere, suburbia. It opened me up - to listen to the life stories of people I'd never have encountered otherwise. Fabulous, fascinating, accomplished, layered, complicated, beautiful people.
I hold surely to the belief that choosing to encounter the unfamiliar, the unexpected - is the movement of God in our midst. Plain and simple.
Find a way to step off of the well worn path you walk each day and live in this space. Choose to hear the stories, the layers of color and light that build the body of a person into a life. It did me a world of good. Good in unexpected spaces. It pushed new colors onto my canvas and even still, new color into how I perceive and value the dignity in us all - intrinsically made to love and be connected with one another.
To old fashions and lobster dinners and poetry and weaving our lives together in grace with gratitude.
A huge thank you to the staff at Tribute Heritage Village for the opportunity to work alongside your residents, and for the hospitality, kindness and vision you have to share beauty and light with your community.