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How Do You Paint Happiness?

I can no longer remember the name of the Turkish poet who first asked this question, but I absolutely believe it is a question worth asking and difficult to ignore.

Consider the work of the painter. There are infinite ways of creating form out of lines and colour upon a canvas, but in the end the artist’s quest is surely always the same: to look beyond what is immediately apparent to the eye and portray a vision of life at some ‘more central region’.   And perhaps this is the key. True happiness, as with a painting, is but a ‘snapshot’ of existence. It exists only in the fleeting moment and yet, insofar as it gathers up in its wake so many unrealised hopes and forgotten dreams, it fills our lives with universal significance.   What is the future that I want to paint for myself and those I love? What would it take for me, for them, for us to be truly and wonderfully happy?   What’s on tv tonight?
Back in the hospital, My Love is enduring 3 weeks of enforced bed rest.   Little ones, look how much your mother is doing for you even now. You are so wanted. But it is still not your time. Wait a while longer!   Sitting next to her, I am conscious that I have become unusually fascinated by the regular menu of television medical dramas and documentaries on the tv, designed to entertain, inform and satisfy our innate love of gore and tragedy.   What is that about? Why don’t I simply put my head outside the door or walk along the corridor to get a front row seat on life in High Definition?   Tonight’s viewing, though, was more than simple relief from the boredom of our situation.   Set in an emergency neonatal unit in Glasgow, I sit transfixed by the stories of tiny, fragile lives and the efforts of modern medicine to prolong their existence. I listen to ordinary mums and dads desperately struggling to make sense of everything that was going on around them. I watch silently, unable to hold back the tears, as doctors prepare a beautiful, tiny boy to say goodbye to his parents for the last time. One last hug, a final kiss and then he is gone.   I will never know the name of the little boy who slipped away in front of my eyes tonight. But still I wonder how his parents are doing right now. I want them to know that their story of courage amidst terrible loss has moved more deeply than I could ever express. Of course, there are no words of consolation that I could give and I doubt that time will ever truly heal the scars of their affliction. But as I leave the hospital, with these images still so fresh in my mind, I find myself going over and over the same words in my mind: Little child, your life was too short, but the love you gave in your thirty one days will never be forgotten.   And as I slip into sleep, my final thought is that these parents are life’s heroes. But I pray to God that I never receive the same dreadful calling.   Are you ready yet?
My experience as a parent is one of never being entirely ready. You can buy the accessories, paint the bedroom, assemble the cot, simulate sleep deprivation and even borrow a baby for a day (or night!) to practice these newly-acquired skills. But, in the end, this is easy part. No amount of reading, list-making or Feng Shui reorientation of your bedroom alters the fact that this tiny and utterly dependent human life will effortlessly ***** you of your outwardly impenetrable, sophisticated adult lives and stir up a well of long-forgotten fears, emotional vulnerabilities and primitive human responses.   So how does anyone survive? The funny thing about being a parent is that when you are in the midst of this existential storm you rarely notice what is happening to you. Children may throw your live into unprecedented disarray, but a single smile contains enough magic to transform this emotional battleground into a small corner of heaven itself.   Learning to paint
Back in the hospital, I begin to daydream and paint my future: the day our angels are born, their first day at school, family celebrations. There is one image, however, that keeps coming back. I imagine one of my little angels running in from the garden, tears rolling her face and a scratch on her delicate little knee. She has fallen over and looks to me for comfort and reassurance. As I hold her in my arms, I whisper to her gently, I can’t take the pain away, but I can kiss it better. This, more than any other moment, seems to capture the person I want to be for those I begin to love so deeply. Only by being present for my children in this way will I be truly happy.   For what it is, this is my painting.   I share this with my story with a trusted fried. We talk about the life and joy our children bring to us. Three day later she finds out her son has cancer and she can’t find her painting any more.   Alan’s watch
I had the chance to meet Alan on the streets of San Francisco recently. He was selling his own paintings of happiness to passers by.   I am certainly no art critic, but to my amateurish eye, I was immediately struck by the almost chaotic energy, colour and passion in his cityscapes. I am stepped forward to take a closer look and noticed that each painting contained grains of sand, string - even pieces of an old watch.   I talked to Alan for a while and listened to his story. He told me how, following the death of his father, he had decided to insert fragments of his dad’s watch into his paintings. It was his expression of appreciation for the way his father had inspired him and brought happiness into his life.   One of Alan’s paintings now hangs on a wall in our home. Every time I look at it, I am reminder of Alan and his father.   Their shared happiness somehow helping me paint on my own canvas.  

Read more stories like this on my blog: http://davidwillows.squarespace.com

 

DavidWillows DavidWillows 36-40 Apr 12, 2009

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