Wednesday, December 31, 2008

One Year Over ...

“Generosity consists not the sum given, but the manner in which it is bestowed”
Unknown

As this day ends so does another year. I haven't written anything in the past weeks because, as usual, I got caught up in the whirlwind of holiday shopping, wrapping, mailing and decorating. Even though I thought I had downsized in all categories, I still somehow managed to have way more to do than time to do it in.

But here's the strange part. I was on "go" most of the time, but I never really got frazzled. Oh sure, I poured myself into bed every night, and fussed at my sweetie more than once, but I don't think I experienced as much anxiety as in years past. And I definitely found time to listen to Christmas music and rest in the spirit of the holiday. These are good things!

I haven't been writing but I have been thinking - reflecting. And this is what I've decided. For me, the theme of 2008 has been generosity. Everywhere I've turned this year I've had an almost overwhelming sense of the generosity of people (known and unknown), places and things.
Knowing this, feeling this all around me, kind of wants to make me do the happy dance.

There were years gone by when I went to bed before midnight with blankets and pillows pulled up over my head thinking that sheltered as I was in my own private cocoon, there was no possible way the new year could touch me. Depression can get even more depressing when everyone one around you is clanging pots and pans, drinking champagne, and welcoming in change. Depression doesn't leave much room for change; dark is dark.

I've had some of those oh-shit-not-this-again dark days this year. Yet on the bleakest of days I reached a lady on the phone who calmed me with her gentleness. Not to mention the miracle of miracles that the doctor had an opening that this angel assigned to me. I could look at it like she was just doing her job. But I believe it was more than that. It was one person reaching across an invisible boundary and saying, "don't worry, everything is gonna be alright."

I've had lots of those moments this year. I've witnessed love and light even as a man lay dying. Just the other day my sweetie slammed on the brakes so not to run into the "#?@*! idiot" in front of him who was stopped in the middle of the road. As the idiot moved a little Sweetie's line of vision opened up. Right in front of us, crossing four lanes of traffic, was a momma duck and a trail of yellow ducklings following in a single line. What a moment! There was not one honking horn, or uplifted finger, just a bunch of cars waiting for this family to waddle by at its unhurried pace. That was a lesson for me. A lesson about slowing down, about sticking together in scary circumstances, about looking both ways then stepping out in faith.

Here are some other examples of the generosity with which I've been gifted this year:

  1. Life - Near the stroke of midnight on the first day of this year Miss Ivy Jane Wichansky was born. Like a special gift from our Creator all wrapped up in a pink blanket, this baby (and so many others) serve as a reminder that good things come in small packages.
  2. Heart - Not much more I can say about Terri St. Cloud that I haven't said already. Her heart is larger than average. She's not afraid to share it with others. She is an example of what generous giving is all about.
  3. Words - Carol O'Dell wrote and published a book about taking care of her mother. But she didn't stop there. She is in the business of helping others tell their own stories. She edits and encourages with kindness. She makes you believe in yourself even when you don't think you have a clue that you have anything to say. She helps you tell your story, then claps like a cheerleader.
  4. More words - my writing group, as I've said before, let me know I'm okay just where I am. First they give me rules to follow then the freedom to break them if I want.
  5. Family - I know how dysfunctional we are. Yet, we are all here together when it counts. Aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins from 5 to 12 gathered recently to share Thanksgiving dinner and old memories. All the while making new ones. 500 photos tell the story of how good a family can be.
  6. More family - My sister, Linda. Her giving spirit doesn't end. She keeps the family heirlooms, stories, pictures, tea sets. She remembers every birthday. She pushes you out the door when you haven't had a vacation in 2 years. She makes Christmas stockings, borrows camel suits, and buys yarn for baby hats. Mainly she says not in words, but in her actions, "life is hard, let's share the load.".
  7. Photographs - In the midst of construction piles and hurricane strength winds my son grabs his camera and takes these phenomenal pictures which he willingly shares with people who don't have a clue what it's like to live in place where every time the sun rises or falls new shades of orange are created.
  8. More Photographs - Wendy has been taking pictures for as long as I can remember. Her newest endeavor is to make these incredible books on PhotoWorks so that her pictures are not stored away in a box but can be looked at over and over again - a gift that gives on giving.
  9. More photographs - I've recently re-discovered one of my favorite authors, Jon Katz. In the years since I've read one of his books, he's moved to a farm and picked up a camera. Every day I am wowed by several of his photographs. He's good enough to make a Florida girl who wears Birkenstock sandals (sans socks) 360 days a year want to move to Vermont and play in the snow, with a cow or a sheep or a donkey! The pictures he takes of his hospice dog take my breath away.
  10. Spirit - The Hispanic people in my church have a kind of spirit that is infectious.
  11. Humility - Fr. Georges
  12. Humor - Fr. Georges
  13. Honor - Fr. Georges. Since I grew up in a house full of girls I have no idea what it's like to have a brother. All that changed on the night Georges walked into our house kissed my father and sang happy birthday to Jack in 5 languages. My heart has grown over the year as I watch this self-effacing man take what's been thrown at him (and it's not all been pretty) with grace and love. He's not above a snide comment or two. He doesn't always take things lying down, but he practices what he preaches when it comes to loving. He has a smile that he's not afraid to share.
  14. Listening - My Sweetie has a special knack for listening. Even if he is deep in thought at the computer or entrenched in a nail-biting football game, when I tell him I need to talk, he stops on a dime, turns his head towards me, opens up his body posture and says "what's up." He listens with more than his ears. I think he hears with his heart. And he doesn't but in, he lets me go on and on. Sometimes he holds me. Sometimes he lets me wipe tears and snot on his shirt. There's a fine art to good listening and Sweetie is a pro.
  15. Unexpected gifts - Every time Jean goes to the beach the ocean coughs up a special shell or token. Her eyes are always open to the glories she'll find * Black Beauty sharing her bone with a stranger we brought into the house for a few days * The quilting lady fitting my little quilt into her queue of quilts to be done before Christmas - not once but TWICE! * Sorrow's Christmas give-away. * An apple-bearing Santa :) * Dad clapping his hands to the salsa beat of an well-known hymn * Great service from a Peruvian waitress in an Italian restaurant * Sweetie's son and daughter-in-law braving an allergy attack to say Merry Christmas * The look on Sweetie's face when he sold his first item on E-bay * A curly headed tot * Chinese carved ice sculptures * Yellow tree* Fairy wings
  16. Love - I had an idea this year. I asked for help; not easy for a girl who has control issues. People I don't know came forward. They gave baby hats, shoe boxes, bracelets, prayers, money, joy, and time. Mostly they gave love. I talked to a lady I've never met on the phone yesterday. She said, "my heart jumped" when I made an announcement in church. I knew exactly what she meant because with every gift of love given my heart has done double back flips.

I'm sure there's more. But I think I've hit the highlights. It's been an amazing year. I can only imagine that if I keep my eyes and heart open, 2009 will be more of the same. Challenges will come. Trials will arise. Shit will happen. But I've learned I can count on the generosity of others to get me through.

My prayer is that I give as well as I get.

May you be blessed in the year ahead. Looking forward to what comes down the pike,
Merry ME

Thursday, December 11, 2008

30 Places I'd Like to Sleep

15. In a hammock strung between two palm trees, with a gentle ocean breeze to keep me cool.

14. I think I'd like to be a kid again all tucked into my bed, wearing my new Christmas flannel pajamas trying hard to stay awake to see Santa but knowing the sooner I go to sleep, the sooner I can awake to the magic that is Christmas. I think when you are old(er) and there are no kids around, Christmas just doesn't feel the same. That doesn't mean it's not still good, it is just not magical - kind of like hot chocolate without the marshmallows! The baby Jesus, red flannel pjs, toys that don't need batteries, sitting on Santa's lap, holiday meltdowns, homemade stockings filled with goodies, decorating sugar cookies, shaking and counting the packages under the tree, school plays, wishes, candy canes, Christmas pageants, it's all really about kids isn't it?

13. At the El Tovar Hotel at the edge of the Grand Canyon. I always believed I was a beachy kind of girl. And truth be told, as you have already ready, the beach is indeed one of my favorite places. Nothing, however, compares to the majesty of the Grand Canyon. To say it is "grand" is an understatement. As John Wesley Powell once commented, "The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail. "

The El Tovar is a little easier to describe as it is man-made. The hotel opened its doors in 1905. Most of the lumber had to be brought in by railway. Even though it has been renovated several times, my memory is that the hotel retains it's "lodge" feel while at the same time makes you feel quite glamorous. There is a porhc that surrounds the hotel with big log rocking chairs. Oh, to sit and rock and watch the people and the sun move across the canyon. Now that's a day of rest and relaxation right there.

A short distance from El Tovar's front door is "my" rock. The few times I've been privileged to visit the Grand Canyon, I've spent time just sitting and looking out over the majestic vista. The rocks are always the same, yet as the light passes over and the years pass, one knows that it is constantly changing. It is a beautiful spot. I don't think the park rangers would let you sleep on sidewalk, and I've traveled as far into the canyon as I ever hope to get. The obvious next best to sleep it the hotel. You can wake up with the sunrise coming in your window or go to sleep with the colors of the setting sun. Either way it is tre magnifique.

12. Anywhere but here!!!!!!!

11. In a treehouse. The 1960 Disnery version of Swiss Family Robinson is one of my all time favorites. In my nannying days, Robert and I watched it about a kazillion times. Originally Robert was afraid of the scary pirates, but we watched it so many times, he soon learned to love the coconut bombs the family used to out maneuver the bad guys. For me, the treehouse was the best part of the whole movie. Ever since I've had a secret (not so secret anymore) desire to have a getaway/sleepover high up in the trees.

How about this place in Washington. It's 50 ft. up in a giant Cedar tree with a view of Mt. Ranier that would most likely make waking up at the top of an evergreen canopy seem like 2nd best. [http://www.cedarcreektreehouse.com/]

I read yesterday that a man in Delray Beach is going to have to move his $25,000 tree house as it blocks the view of the other historical houses in the neighborhood. I think when he started the project it was going to be just a little playhouse for his daughter. Thus he neglected to get permission to build. After a few years of legal wrangling, the City Council gave the guy a "move it or lose it" ultimatum. As if building treehouse with French doors, gabled roof, rope bridge extending to the main house and staircase leading 23 feet up from the ground WITHOUT the appropriate permits wasn't enough, this nut says "he plans to use a crane to pluck the 220-square-foot tree-top abode from the strangler fig it now rests upon and swing it to a tangle of sea grapes." [http://www.palmbeachpost.com/localnews/content/local_news/epaper/2008/12/03/1203treehouse.htm].
I'm thinking a couple coconut bombs would be a lot easier than a crane!~me

10. Spoon-style with my Sweetie

9. In my Sweetie's arms snuggled up under some blankets, my head on his chest listening to the beat of his heart. In my fantasy sleep dreams, Sweetie won't be coughing and I won't be snoring.

8. In a swimming pool. I realize I can't swim and sleep at the same time. I could sleep in one of those plastic chairs with a cup hole in the arm so you can have your rest and drink at the same time. Indeed that would be pretty relaxing on a hot summer afternoon. That way you can rest, get hot, roll over and cool off, then repeat the process.

But I'm thinking of a different kind of pool relaxation. I haven't done it in years. I heard Michael Phelps in an interview last night and he talked about having to swim 10,000 meters on a regular basis as part of his Olympic training. Personally I can't even begin to imagine what that would be like - I think the farthest I've ever gone is 30 laps - is that a mile? There's something that happens when you've been swimming for awhile. Once your body gets warmed up and your breathing gets into a kind of primordial rhythm, your arms and legs begin to glide through the water remembering at a cellular level how to move. You become one with the water. Back when I was swimming on a regular basis I got myself into this water baby state a few times. It sounds weird, maybe my goggles were just pulled too tight, but I can remember thinking I could communicate with other swimmers in an Orca kind of way. After awhile I stopped counting laps, stopped smelling the chlorine and let myself "go with the flow". It's not sleep, but a similar kind of bliss. Relaxed, no cares, no worries, just me and the water.
"Swimming: From the outside looking in, you can’t understand it. From the inside looking out, you can’t explain it." Author Unknown
~me


7. On this beach. Anahola Bay, Kauai, Hawaii
My sister and I spent one week back in the late 1980s in Kauai. Just the two of us. It was pure bliss. For those seven days the world seemed to stand still. It was just Linda and I, the ocean, some palm trees, sandy beaches, tropical fish, lush gardens, good food and company. This picture is similar to one I took at the time. Notice there are no people on it. The day Linda and I were there, we dined on Duane's famous Ono burgers in the solitude of a beach that seemed to be made just for us. Us and a big yellow lab. Don't know where he came from but he joined our picnic, dug a rather large hole, then left.

In the years since my Kauai vacation, I've often tried to meditate to reduce my stress level. This beach is the place I always see in my mind's eye as I slow my breathing and calm my anxiety. It doesn't always work when a hygienist is picking at my lichen planus covered gums with a sharp instrument - not sure anything short of a triple shot of Jose Cuervo would help that - but for the most part this beach is very definition of peaceful.

I bet if I had a towel and lots of sunscreen I could sleep an afternoon away undisturbed as the tide washes across the sand and the breeze rustles through the palm leaves. Undisturbed, that is, except for the cute hula boys, wearing sweet smelling flowered leis, singing a sweet leilani lullaby accompanied by the strings of an island ukulele and a big yellow dog kicking sand in my direction.

Aloha,
Merry ME

6. Curled up on the rug in front of a roaring fire.

5. Somewhere at Grammy's camp in Vermont.
Picture in your mind the movie On Golden Pond. My grandparents had a camp that was similar, set in the woods of Vermont, right on Lake Carmi not far from the Canadian border. Originally the camp consisted of three cabins - one large with kitchen and bathroom plus two smaller ones that barely held a double bed and a bookcase. I believe I slept in every cabin, but mostly I remember sleeping on the porch of the big house. As a kid, I had to go to bed before the adults. They'd pull a curtain closed as if to keep the grown up conversations away from sleeping children. I'd fall asleep listening - not caring so much what was being said, but knowing that I was surrounded by family.

I also slept in my grandmother's bed once. I'd gone to visit - my first trip away from home by myself - when I was around 13. That was an eventful visit. I was kissed on the mouth by a boy about whom there is nothing else remarkably memorable. I also started my period. Right there in Grammy's bed. Funny the things you remember.

The beds at camp were okay. I was a kid, I could sleep anywhere. However, one of the places I fantasize about today, is the boat dock. What would it be like to take a towel and a pillow and a good book and lie down on that sun bleached dock. I'm sure the water from the lake lapping right up onto the rocks where chipmunks played would lull me to sleep. When a dragon fly buzzed over my head or a motor boat whizzed by, I'd simply roll over, read a few more pages and fall back to sleep.

I haven't been to the camp in years, but it is one of the places I fantasize about running to when the world gets too unbearable for me. The big house is gone. Probably, Grammy's card table and Scrabble game, too. No doubt the Fiesta dinnerware, the wringer washer, and the electric sheets have been sold on ebay to make room for more modern memories for the great-great grandchildren who spend summers there now.

I wonder about the hammock? ~me


4. On the pull-out couch that used to be in our den. It was old and had a hard metal bar that ran across the bed. It hit me right square in the back. It wasn't very comfortable at all. But it was where I got to sleep if I was sick enough to stay home from school. Mom would make up the bed, put Grandmother's red Lone Star quilt on top of me and that's where I'd recouperate. I could sleep in front of the TV, listening to the Price is Right or Days of Our Lives. Mom would put her cool hand on my forehead to check for fever. Then she'd offer Campbell's soup to soothe my sore throat. One time I remember she rubbed me with alcohol to bring down my temperature. [Funny how the mind works. I just had a flashback of how I rubbed her body with lotion when she could no longer do it herself. What goes around comes around.]

Don't get me wrong. This sleep fantasy is not about being sick. It's about needing to let someone else do the caregiving for awhile. It's about missing my mom more today than other days. It's about wanting things to be different. Going back different, where I know what to expect; not going forward where the the things that are going to be different are still unknown. I don't want to be stuck in the past, but I'd like an afternoon or two to bask in the gentleness of my mom's love.

It sounds like my inner child wants some attention and my grown up self can't think beyond cooing Thanksgiving dinner. ~me

3. In my own bed .... in a house that has no one in it but me so I can sleep the sleep of a person without a care or concern in the world. I can go to bed when I want, and sleep as long as I want. ~me

I'm going to try to keep all these sleeping blogs on one post. Not sure it's going to work.


2. In a Smoky Mountain log cabin in the spring or fall when the weather is warmish during the day but cool at night so I can sleep with the windows open and only my nose sticking out from under the blankets. The kind of place where waking up is a gradual process gently punctuated by the music of songbirds and the peaceful sound of wind chimes swaying in a mountain breeze. ~me


1. In a hotel, near the beach, with a balcony door open so the sounds of the ocean can caress me to sleep. This is kind of my all-time, whenever I want to run away fantasy. I've done it once or twice before. It is usually as theraputic as I want it to be with the possible exception of I never get to stay quite long enough. ~me

An aside:
Ma & Pa Clampett Go to the Beach

My sister came to visit a couple weeks ago. A long overdue visit that was way too short in duration. I wanted to savor every moment we were together. She wanted that too, but more than sister time she wanted me to have some Mary time, or some Mary and Sweetie time. She wanted to give me a break from my caregiving duties. You gotta love a sister like that. Her insistence won out over my procrastination. We didn't get as far as Key West to stay at the B&B my son offered. We just hopped in the car with a couple small bags and headed east to where the highway meets the Atlantic Ocean.

I won't go so far as to say we were out of our league, but if you imagine a north Forida version of the Beverly Hillbilly's driving up to a fashionable hotel, you might get some idea of what it was like. We had no Granny rocker on the car roof, but we were still pretty surprised to be greeted by not one, but several valets. One wanted to park the van in the $15.00 a night parking lot designated for hotel guests only (hotel guests, I might add, who are paying well over $100 for the privilege of sleeping in a place that charges to park in their secure lot); one to open the car doors; one to carry my knitting bag and one to open the hotel door. Knowing that each of these men would expect a tip, Sweetie and I opted for the five dollar lot across the street that belongs to a hotel that advertises "every room ocean front." I know now that I should have paid more attention to that sign.

We walked into our hotel - I begrudgingly handed over my bag of yarn to the young man who must have thought it was yarn hiding the family jewels in the the bottom of the bag I was protecting with my life. Truth be told, I was trying to protect my pocketbook.

After we checked in, the very pleasant and polite hotel employee gave us our key, the information that all the drinks and snacks in the room were covered by the "Resort Tax," and a big smile. Sweetie refused to give the bellhop his satchel. I decided since I was on vacation, even if it was for only 24 hours, to go whole hog and let the guy carry my pajama bag too. He took us on a semi-grand tour of the hotel just trying to find the elevator. I knew immediately I should be dropping bread crumbs. I was taken by the smell of lavender coming from the spa. Mmmmmmm. I was getting sleepy already. Vacation bliss!

I knew when we turned west down a rather long hallway that something was wrong. We were headed away from our "oceanview" room. "Excuse me," I said with trembling voice. "I don't think this is the direction of the ocean."

"Oh, no mam," responded the bleached blonde/suitcase carrying surfer dude who obviously had more hotel experience than my Sweetie and I put together. "You've got a room with a view of the ocean ... not an ocean front room. But I'm sure we can get you another room for another $80.00."

Sweetie was ready to duke it out with somebody. But I realized the mistake was all mine. I didn't know there was a difference. Besides, there we were in a room with a very luxurious king sized bed covered in a cozy looking comforter and lots of pillows. If I stretched my neck around the corner of the hotel I could see the ocean. And I was sure that once I opened the window I'd be able to hear the ocean waves even if it was mixed with traffic sounds and beach people making merry.







Okay, I admit it. I got really pissed when I realized the window didn't open and there was no balcony to stand on. My sleep fantasy had begun to fizzle. Not so pissed that I wanted to make a stink, but disappointed.

But, who can stay disappointed with a whole refridgerator full of paid for snacks, some of the biggest grapes I've ever seen and a flat screen TV just waiting to entertain us with a Jaguar football game. Sweetie opened up a bottle of Evian water and settled into the pillows. I rested on the chaise lounge and began knitting. Ahhhhhhh, serenity.

Thus we enjoyed our night away. Not quite what we had expected yet good company and really good sleep. Have I mentioned before that my Sweetie is an early riser? Yup, 5am comes along and his eyelids pop right open. He tried to be quiet, he really did. I know he did. I put one of the pillows over my head to block out the sun streaming through the non-opening window. I burrowed under the comforter. I think I was awake an hour or so earlier than I would have been at home. Check out time wasn't until eleven. Didn't this man understand my need for sleep?

In his defense, I wonder how he could have let me sleep when he was staring at the resort tax bill that had been slipped under the door in the wee morning hours? What? Hadn't I already paid the resort tax with my online reservation? Apparently not. The noise(s) I kept hearing as I tried to catch the last of my 40 winks was the sound of glass soda bottles and snacks being stuffed into the carry-it-ourselves-luggage. Sweetie, figured we paid for it, we were going to take it with us. We didn't touch the terry-lined silk robes, and we take any towels. Everything else was fair game. Our bags were noticeably heavier upon departure.

We could have complained. However, the only purpose that would have served was to point out to the hard hearted hotel employee, who had already heard all the resort tax complaints he coule handle, that we were bigger rubes than we looked like. Lesson learned. Next time we head straight for the flamingo pink Seahorse Hotel.

Live and learn,
Merry ME

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Rainbow Moment

“So much of who we are comes from those who have touched us,
other lives we have shared.
When we mourn a loss we also celebrate all the ways
that another’s life is reflected in our own.”
Hallmark card
My neighbor died last night. He was 83. He had been battling cancer for the past few months. His fight is over now. I'm sad, but mostly glad he's not suffering any more. I believe he's in a better place.
What's especially hard when someone dies, is knowing what to say to the ones that are left behind. Even if it's true, they don't especially want to hear, "he's in a better place."
A couple of weeks ago I had a rather unique experience. I was asked to sit with my neighbor while his sister went and did some things. I knew that things might not be pretty. But I went with a happy heart and a desire to be with George. My priest used to call it the ministry of presence. He assured me I didn't have to say anything, that people often just want a person to sit with them. Hell, I can do that. I'm a pretty good sitter.
I had noticed that George could use a little tending to. His nails needed to be trimmed and he could use a good slathering of Lubriderm - not to mention a shave. So I took some things with me and George didn't seem to mind my playing manicurist. I trimmed, and filed and rubbed lavender Shea butter into his parched skin. No words passed between us as I held his hands in mine and gently massaged his fingers. The lavender aroma put us both at ease.
The week before we'd been having a conversation about his life and he told me this wonderful story of friendship. His lifelong friend was visiting before moving to California to live with his daughter. "What do you need?" the friend asked. And George answered that it had been ages since he'd had a real bath. So the friend did exactly what you'd want a friend would do. He took the dying man to the bathroom and bathed him in a tub full of warm water and love. I love that.
I told George I'd never shaved anyone before, but that didn't faze him. He told me where to find all the shaving paraphernalia then laid back with his eyes closed while I shaved off week's worth of whiskers. I finished with a gentle slap of Aqua Velva on his cheeks. I wish I had a picture of his smile - it spoke what no words could.
Not much I could do after that but sit there. I held his hand til I thought he was almost asleep. That's when he said, "Bless you Mary" and some other words I couldn't quite make out. He spoke in a low murmur then finished with an strong "amen." That's when I realized that he had just prayed for me. He was tired. He was dying. Yet, he prayed for me. I was humbled to my core.
On the way home I prayed that I wouldn't soon forget the afternoon. I prayed that it wouldn't be our last time together, but, really, if it was, I couldn't ask for more. I prayed for understanding. This afternoon's experience felt like a precursor to what might come as I continue to take care of my father. Between George and I there was no struggle. Between Dad and I the struggle is still intense. George allowed me to do for him the same things my father still needs to do to maintain his very existence. He's not ready to let go. I've seen now that there is a difference. There may come a time when Dad is okay with me rubbing lotion into his pruney skin. Until then, I need to share with Dad what I shared with my neighbor. I have to remember that some days it's simply my presence that is most important to him.
Feeling privileged,
Merry ME

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Moved by Art

"Art is pictures straight from the heart."
Ben, Los Cerros Middle School, 1999


I had a rather unique experience today. I don't believe it's ever happened before. I wonder if it will ever happen again.

As I was slowing for a traffic light that was about to change from red to green I glanced into the window of a small art gallery* and caught just a glimpse of a painting that I knew I had to see close up. Like the fairy wings of a couple weeks ago, I knew this picture was worth a trip around the block. My tires didn't squeal, but I bet I made it back to square one in record time. I was right about the picture - a Nativity scene done in brightly colored oils. It was worth the trip. Perhaps it is because I go to an Hispanic church and have grown fond of their use of color, but I felt like this picture in it's abstract beauty had a Latin feel to it. I poked my nose to the glass trying to get a closer look. Already gone from home for most of the day, I had no business dilly dallying at an art gallery. Still, I couldn't help myself. I had to see what was inside this surprise treasure trove.

I've never been much of an artsy person. I don't know a Picasso from a kindergartner's work. But I do know what I like. My choices are as varied as my moods. Some of my favorite paintings, in fact, have been a whimsical childishness to them. This picture, however, was different. It literally spoke to me.

Like the angels encouraging the shepherds to follow the star, "Come along, Mary," the painting seemed to say me. "If you think this one is good, just wait til you see what's inside."

I stepped across the threshold into a place as comfortable as a painter's living room. It had a slight scent of oil paints and turpentine. Pictures of all sizes lined the walls. Giving a nod to the holiday season, there were handpainted ornaments and pieces of intricately beaded jewelry.

The owner of the gallery, Reet London, was almost like a work of art herself. From Estonia, she spoke with a Slavic accent. She was tall and thin. She moved like a dancer. Her skin looked as if it was made of fine porcelain - the kind you want to touch. The only thing that said she was a artist, other than her stature, was the black paint stained apron she wore. Unlike the artist in me, her hair was not astray, she had no paint on her cheeks, hands or shoes. I bet her brushes sat neatly in a tray in her easel.

Reet and I spoke of the Nativity picture. It was painted by an 80 year old Israeli man who moved to Jacksonville to live with his daughters. His work has been shown in galleries all over Europe. He paints the pictures he sees in his mind's eye. In a moment, I wanted to know the man, to sit on a stool in his studio and watch him paint. I wanted to bathe in his talent.

Then, when I didn't think it could get any better, Reed showed me another picture. This one was bigger, had more going on, but was still colorful. It was a painting of the Crucifixion. My hands didn't know what to do. Should I cover my mouth, grasp my heart or reach out to touch the canvas with the same reverence and awe that the ladies at the foot of the cross possessed? In typical fashion, I started to cry.

I had no idea what was happening to me. Like I said, I don't really "do" art, rarely visit an art gallery and often "dis" the stuff that auction houses sell for thousands of dollars. But this, this reaction was physical. This painting touched me in a place I've rarely been touched. To me, it was beauty personified. The pictures together - the Nativity on one wall, the Crucifixion on another - were not only art - they were church. It was like I was standing in the presence of the Alpha and the Omega. The beginning and the end right there on Hendricks Ave in Jacksonville, Florida? Weird, huh?

I'm not sure what it was all about. I've got to tell you, though, so far it tops my list of things that moved me in 2008.

In the hurry up days ahead, I'm wishing you art-filled moments that will take your breath away,
Merry ME

* http://www.europeanartgarage.com/

P.S. I googled "Reza" and could only find information about Iranian, not Israeli, Rezas.