From where do we PILGRIMS come? To where do we go? We are born. We die. The JOURNEY seems FOREVER. Perhaps LIFE is INFINITE.
When my friend Luis died, his mother Juanita was open to the possibility that he might have become a cardinal—that brilliantly red, black-faced bird that frequents our yards here in Georgia. Why not? She had made connections between a cardinal she saw after learning of her son’s death, and then saw one again as she went inside to view his body at the funeral parlor.
Without questioning the particulars of Juanita’s hypothesis, I dedicated myself meaningfully to the task of envisioning Luis as a cardinal, flying to his next destination. A red-bodied angel emerged on the sheet of white paper in front of me. In addition to wings, Luis was now equipped with a large orange-yellow beak and a bird’s eye view of the world.
Let me speak of my artistic process in honoring Luis and his mother with this cardinal-Luis image. I drew and painted what was “easy” for me. As a visual artist, I treasure PROCESS before PRODUCT. “To keep your process flowing, to feel the enjoyment of creation, you first need to go where it is easy,” writes Michele Cassou in her 1995 book, “Life, Paint and Passion.” (If you are thinking this approach to visual art is similar to Natalie Goldberg’s towards writing, you are correct. Natalie Goldberg wrote the forward to Cassou’s book.)
Whenever I begin to draw, I start with what is familiar. Michele Cassou uses the following simile, “Your painting is like an apple tree. If you want to eat its fruit, look for a ripe one, one that drops into your hand when you touch it….Do not pick green apples….Remember: Every apple will be ripe in its time; do not rush it.”
So I started with the familiarity of drawing an avian head, crafted a human bird neck with shoulders that extended into arms and wings, finished by human legs and feet—triumphantly creating a blended species. Easy! Because I had been working with similar imagery to express changes in my own life’s journey (see “Trust in the Imaginative Process, April 19, 2010).
As I moved close to completing the image, I stepped outside to my courtyard to show it to my condo neighbor, Kiona. It was a sunny Saturday morning, and it was pleasant to be outside after huddling over my art table. As we leaned towards one another in conversation about DEATH and BIRTH transitions, a cardinal flew close to us and landed in a nearby tree. I addressed the bird, “Hello Luis, I painted this image for your mother. Thank you so much for coming and visiting us.” As long as we chatted, the cardinal lingered. Perhaps, he was waiting to get the birdfeeder for sunflower seeds. We don’t know for certain, do we?
When we emerge from our mother’s wombs, we are STRANGERS to ourselves and to each other. Our lives are JOURNEYS and we are PILGRIMS. Each step moves us towards a GREATER KNOWING of our own SOUL and the physical world that we inhabit.
Does the JOURNEY ever END? Write Hallelujah and tell her about your PILGRIMAGE. Is it INFINITE? Or are we FINITE? Can we become a bird, an apple tree, a firefly?