When Walter hit sixty years old he was drowning. Submerged in a sea of clutter, art supplies, papers, broken appliances, old clothes and unfinished projects.
His beloved wife, Alice, died three years ago. After that, Walter became marooned in loss. He started to unravel, feeling unmoored and adrift. Alice had always been his rock. His true north.
Retired many years now from his career as an art teacher at the community college, Walter struggled to make a go of his fine art. He would amble into his studio, mix colors on his palette and then stare at the canvas. But nothing would come to him.
The muse that used to inform his creativity had taken leave. He wondered if it would ever come back.
The few paintings he did manage to produce were well executed but lacked vitality. Too flat in a predictable, representational sort of way.
The door to fear
Saul, owner of the only gallery that sold Walter’s work, suggested more color. “Saul, I’m a tonalist. I don’t do gaudy, scattershot explosions of color,” Walter would say.
“Well, I don’t know what to tell you. Something’s missing in your work. I mean, the pieces are well done, but something’s not there,” Saul lamented.
The missing ingredient in Walter’s work was joy. The loss of Alice had stolen a piece of Walter’s heart, making him unable to access the happiness he once felt.
The loss of happiness and joy can open the door to fear. And fear, ultimately, was the reason Walter’s paintings didn’t connect.
Walter was fearful that if he allowed joy back into his life, it would betray Alice. How dare he feel happiness with Alice gone, he thought to himself.
There’s no betrayal in living
Autumn arrived and Walter got into the habit of putting his coat on and walking around the local park. The leaves turned striking reds, orange and rusty yellows. Walter found some measure of solace in his daily walks.
One day, Walter encountered a young woman sitting on a park bench, writing in a leather notebook with a fountain pen. It amused Walter that a young person was using a fountain pen. He struck up a conversation with her.
“Young lady, pardon me, but is that a Parker fountain pen?”
The woman smiled and said, “Why yes, it was my father’s. He passed away two years ago. When I write with it, I feel like Dad is still with me.”
Walter introduced himself and the young woman said her name was Ann.
“Really? That was my wife’s middle name,” Walter said.
The two chatted and Ann told Walter she was a poet. Walter talked about his career as an art teacher, and his efforts now to sell paintings.
A cool breeze lifted the leaves around the park bench. Walter bowed his head and admitted to Ann that he missed his wife terribly.
Ann put her hand on Walter’s shoulder and looked down at the leaves. She scooped up a handful of leaves, stood up, and faced Walter. And then she said this:
“I’ll bet it isn’t easy for trees to let go of their leaves. I mean, leaves help trees absorb sunlight and water and air. Leaves breath in carbon dioxide. They produce chlorophyll and make food through photosynthesis.”
Walter smiled and said, “Yes, Ann, I’m an old man but I still remember my grade school biology.”
Ann sat next to Walter, still holding the leaves and said, “In the fall, trees shed their leaves to survive the cold weather. And shedding leaves also helps trees pollinate in springtime.”
“All very fascinating, Ann,” Walter said, curious what the biology lesson was all about. Then Ann dropped the leaves and put both her hands on Walter’s shoulders.
She looked in his eyes and said,
“Walter, autumn is the perfect time to let go. The people we love and lose would want us to live on. To laugh, cry and even feel joy. There’s no betrayal in living, in finding happiness again. In fact, doing so honors the ones we loved.”
Walter gazed at Ann a few moments and then began to weep. She hugged him and for the first time in a long time, Walter felt some kind of weight lifting. A sort of release.
He wiped his eyes and told Ann that she was a gift. He thanked her and wished her much success with her poetry. She assured Walter that things would get better. Then she smiled and strolled off into the park, like some sort of wandering angel.
In the weeks that followed, Walter’s art took on a new dimension. He began approaching the canvases with a sense of energy and long repressed hopefulness.
He moved a large photograph of his wife into the studio. He found himself gently talking to her as he painted. He imagined that she was pleased with his renewed enthusiasm for painting.
The perfect time to let go
Then one day the phone rang. Walter picked it up. “Hello?”
“Walter, I don’t know what happened with you, but whatever it is, keep doing it! I’ve just sold the last of your recent paintings. I’d like to do a one man show with you this spring. People can’t get enough of your work! What’s your secret?” Saul asked, excitedly.
Walter paused for a moment, and then said, “It’s autumn, Saul, and someone taught me that autumn is the perfect time to let go.”
I’m John P. Weiss. I draw cartoons and write about life. Click on my face above to join my free email list for the latest cartoons and musings. In return, I’ll send you eight pages of cartoons and notes on creativity. What a deal!
(Originally published in Artplusmarketing.com)