One of my dearest friends, Katie, who you've seen on my blog before, had a birthday on Monday! To celebrate, she organized a birthday party at Fort Collins' Art Center, where six of us sat down to wine, tasty snacks, and a blank canvas. I thought you'd like to see the in-progress photos, taken by our instructor, Lauren. (Check out Lauren's great website if you'd like to take a class from her--she is really good: gadaboutart.com)
What I loved about the evening (besides the food and drink!) was yes, that I got to learn a little more about painting technique, but more than that: the community. I love it when people come together and hang out. Especially in art. It was brilliant. There are moments of laughter, silence, furrowed brows, and pride throughout a 2 hour session. And then you end with this!
Smiles, satisfaction, tiredness, and relief. Yes, we all actually made something we'd hang on our wall! (Katie is in the top row, second from right.)
As you know, I sure like to make cards, and I go all out for those who I know will appreciate them, as Katie always does. I saw a drawing of a mason jar on Etsy and thought I could do something with that thematically. Why not try to capture all the aspects of a perfect day and keep them in a jar on the shelf, to remind you of all you hold dear? Voila! A card was born!
Thanks for a great time, and for being my lovely friend, dear Katie. :)
One of the perks of working at a university is the beauty of developing a long term relationship with a student over several years and then watching them walk across the stage at graduation. On a much more somber note, on Monday I also got word that one of my students, also named Katie and a senior in our department, will not have the chance to walk across that stage. I got a call from an official that afternoon that Katie died the day before.
Katie was the type of person who made it impossible to forget who she was--even with my caseload of over 500 students! She was always very organized and let's-get-down-to-business when she came in for an appointment with me. She listened intently. She really wanted what she did to matter, not just to her and her family, but to the world. She had to take time away from college for a semester here and there due to health issues, but she always stayed in touch. She'd email or call me with updates and always, always a question about how to continue forward with her slow-moving plan.
I knew Katie well enough to feel a heaviness in my heart that she won't live the life she was so eager to lead. She was so persistent and determined that her health wouldn't keep her back forever. I met her in 2007 and last talked to her in January. Just this month she turned 24.
For students like her, who don't have it easy on the path to attaining that bachelor's degree, I've been known to make them a "Congratulations, Graduate" card and send it to them with a special note of job well done from someone who has seen them through all the ups and downs. I am sure Katie would have received such a note from me. Today, I thought about her and her family as I made this card instead, for those of us in the department who knew her to sign. It will be included in a package to the family with a letter from the president of the university and a flag that will be flown at half mast next week. I have no idea how Katie died, but no matter how she went, I can't imagine what it is for a family to lose one of their young. To think of the range of emotion that a person can feel just by living and loving someone, these words came to mind, and for me, to have those feelings are what it is to truly be alive:
"To know love is to laugh and cry, smile and frown, to hope, to agonize, to feel content, to feel frustrated. It is to delight and to despair. To know love is truly to have lived."
Two related videos I'd love to share with you along this theme:
First, a California-based mortician named Caitlin Doughty has started a YouTube video series called "Ask a Mortician." Episodes are about 5 minutes long and she answers questions from all over about death." She is so comfortable with the topic that she makes it funny, while still being incredibly appropriate. I have learned a lot from her and really appreciate that someone is talking about this topic. Recently I watched this episode about what to say to people who have lost someone. It is such a good reminder to just be yourself and to be genuine. Don't be awkward, and don't say stupid stuff (see the video), but don't not say something.
Second, a lovely animated Story Corps video about an old couple, "Danny and Annie." I watched it today and it made me cry, it was so amazingly sweet. (You might want to make sure you're not at work when you watch this, just in case you find yourself welling up.) The art is wonderful, especially the last scene, a cartoon against a painted landscape. The video's timing in my life is nice, as it serves as a reminder to tell the people we love that we love them, that we like them, that we're proud of them, that they are worthy of happiness, love and belonging, that we're so glad they're in our lives.
I am so grateful to be alive, and to share my life (and art) with you. Thank you.