Thursday, May 6, 2010

Making It

If you foolishly ignore beauty, you will soon find yourself without it. Your life will be impoverished. But if you invest in beauty, it will remain with you all the days of your life. ~ Frank Lloyd Wright

I was prowling a dockside gallery on my first (and only) visit to Rockport, Massachusetts, when a watercolor of a Vermont farm in the moonlight, with snow covering the roofs of the barn, house, and surrounding fields, caught my eye. The price tag was nearly as large as the painting, but the artist assured me in five years I'd never miss it. He was right, though it was hard to believe at the time.

Mostly, my "artistic purchases" have been limited to unframed posters that share wall space with Western art I inherited from my parents. Artifacts from childhood -- a well-worn teddy bear, spurs, the saddle my father made for my fifth Christmas -- vie for space on bookshelves or rest atop the large brick mantle in my study. A small clay bust of a cowboy I gave my father one year stares out from my mother's antique china cabinet. It's my tip of the hat to sculpture.

One print has a story. It depicts a white wolf leaping from one ice flow to another, and it hangs over my desk. A patient's donation that never found a home on the psychiatric unit, I placed it in my broom closet of an office where it dominated the west wall. By the time I was packing for medical school, it had become such a significant, albeit silent, partner in my work that leaving it behind felt like abandoning a friend.

Often, when conversation in therapy lagged, or a patient was particularly taken with the image, I'd ask, "Do you think s/he'll make it?" Depending on how hopeful or hopeless they were feeling, their answer ranged from ambivalent to certain. One patient, as we were preparing his discharge, said to me, "I used to worry about that wolf, but not anymore; he -- or she, maybe -- is going to be just fine."

Eventually, the print became an image of my own journey, first from Colorado to medical school, and now, through the stress of board exams and rotations to come. The ice reminds me of flagstones floating on a cold, dark blue path. One slip and it's swim for it, but that doesn't matter because home lies at the end and one way or the other, s/he's not stopping until the door is in sight and there's the warmth of a fire within.

Oh yeah, this wolf's going to make it all right.

(Photo of "White Wolf Leaping" by the author; print copyright by Jim Brandenburg)

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