I love to draw.
In college, I took a drawing class and enjoyed it completely. Especially the segment on drawing human figures. We used charcoal and began with a stick figure that included a line for shoulders and hips. This efficiently captured the action of the figure, whether it was reaching for an apple in tree, throwing a ball, or resting on a settee. Once the action was captured, we would swirl ovals around the torso and each limb to add appropriate form and thickness. It was challenging and cool. We used to love focusing on one item – like a hand – and try the same technique. The array of hands that ended up on each student’s paper was fascinating to see. Not an easy task. I admire people who can do it well.
Growing up, my mother had a picture framed in the hallway that I gazed at from time to time. It was a print of a study by Picasso for a painting called, “Mother and Child”. The study focused on the angle of the woman’s face looking at the baby in her arms, and on the woman’s hands.
I was intrigued by the hands. I would routinely stand in front of that picture and I’d try to put my hands in those positions. It was ridiculous. I’m a lover of Picasso, but one of the hands in that study – the one supporting the baby’s back – just happened to be positioned in such an awkward way that I couldn’t get my hand to do it. The rest of the work was lovely. In fact, the hands were lovely. Had it not been for the impossible positioning, it might have been one of my favorites.
When you think of a Picasso, you often think of the work he’s done that puts eyes and mouths in odd positions, so on the surface you’d think he could put his hands in any position he wanted. But it bugged me because this wasn’t an abstract painting. It was supposed to be accurate. It made me wonder why my mother loved that thing. It bugged me. And that odd angle was frozen in my head because I glanced at it nearly every day of the first 24 years of my life.
It’s funny how something can get stuck in your craw like that. (Another Midwestern idiom.) You look at the world a certain way, and if something doesn’t make sense, we label it “odd” or “suspicious” or “unappealing” and it sticks that way. As though we have a bucket in our head for “odd” and we somehow have to fill it up, so we look for things to reject, and we toss them in that bucket where they stay. That’s how my mind works, anyway. I’ve collected a full bucket of things I’ve stopping considering.
And then every once in a while – in a jolt – you see it in a new way.
Sometimes it’s silly stuff.
Like cats, for example. I get them now. I used to think they were terrible animals. Snooty. But I’ve come to look at them differently since we moved to the farm. Where a dog is your unconditional pal, a cat does not take you too seriously. Good to have someone in your life who occasionally shows you indifference even though you think yourself amazing.
And sometimes the discovery is more important.
The day our first daughter was born, everything changed. It’s almost cliché. Everyone tells you that will happen. You know it when you first see this tiny thing that you seem to have no right to hold…yet she’s yours. Yours to protect and feed and teach and love. No matter what you don’t know, you have to try to do it right. It’s frightening at first. Eventually, you forget to be frightened because you don’t have a choice, and other instincts take over.
I was sitting in my hospital bed, gazing into her eyes. I drew her close to my face so I could feel her warm cheek and smell her sweet, soft head. And that moment, I saw my own hand under her back. Like a thunderbolt, I saw it. The hand. Picasso’s awkward, oddly bent hand. Right there. It was in the exact position of the hand in that drawing, and it felt natural and perfect under the form of our daughter’s back. I felt this wave of emotion. I understood. I stared at my own hand through my tears and I realized I was in a place I had been gazing at all my life from my mother’s hallway. A position I could not understand until this moment of truth. I recalled the many, many times I tried awkwardly to imitate this pose, and it was not possible. You had to be there.
Lately, though, I have reached into that bucket to take another look at a couple of things. Brushing off the dust and applying a little life-experience to it. And some things seem more understandable to me now. Like cranky old people. I get it. Or people experiencing great change that’s out of their control. Or the value of quiet. I think I have more patience now. More empathy.
My mother gave me that Picasso print. It is one of my most cherished possessions. I reminds me that life is a great teacher. That something you cannot understand may suddenly become clear to you one day. Life may take you to a place you couldn’t imagine – no matter how hard you tried.
It fills me with gratitude and hope.