I have been on a mission for many years now to help people reach their full creative potential.
Which can mean different things for different folks. But what I am trying to help others avoid is living their lives without being creative if in their hearts it’s something they have always wanted.
And I am driven to do that for one very simple reason.
Both of my parents were mightily blessed with creative gifts. And they carried that longing to create like a secret, sacred treasure. But they came to the end of their lives with the gift unfulfilled, feeling like the shining treasure was never allowed out of the box it was hidden in.
And the grief that they carried from not being able to manifest those gifts was passed on to me as something to try and heal. Which of course initially got passed on as the creative wound.
As a child of around eight who was fascinated with horses, I had a book of amazing watercolor paintings of a bunch of different horse breeds. I spent hours and hours poring over that book. I certainly wanted those horses, but more than anything I really wanted to PAINT them. Just like I saw them painted in the book.
I was incredibly excited by this prospect and asked my father for paints. And he promised to get them for me. But it never happened. He kept “forgetting” or said he was too busy, or he got to the store too late. There was always some excuse. And eventually I gave up asking.
I found out later that painting was my father’s gift. He hungered for a brush in his hands, color flowing through them and for his visions to come alive on the canvas. He was a very sensitive and artistic man who grew up in a culture that could not recognize or value those gifts.
Since painting was something he couldn’t allow himself, he couldn’t give it to me. Not out of meanness. Simply out of his own pain. But it had an effect that I’m sure he never intended. Which is that my nascent painters heart was broken and shamed from not being responded to.
I am constantly working with myself to heal my own creative wounds. And have created a fabulous life filled with art and color and free expression that includes supporting others around healing their creative hurt places.
Even though I made huge progress in my own healing process and have helped hundreds of students and clients with theirs, I always felt a nagging sense of failure because I was never able to change the pattern for the two people that inspired me to do this work.
My father developed cancer in his late 60’s when I was 44 years old and the type of cancer he had was pretty much untreatable. Even though we knew it was a long shot, my sister and I bought him a set of paints and brushes hoping that he would be inspired to give it a try. But it was too late for him. Those art supplies stayed in the box untouched until his death.
At around this same time I was planning a wedding as I was getting married for the first time. So my life was a mixture of incredible joy at finding the love of my life and incredible grief in knowing that my father was not long for this world.
My father had also dealt with his pain around not being fully himself by becoming a functional alcoholic. But shutting down a hurting heart also closes down your vulnerability. Which meant that my father’s sensitivity was something that didn’t come through very often. In fact he was mostly arrogant, bombastic and emotionally bullying when he wasn’t just simply withdrawn.
Even so, at the end of his life I still loved him.
But I was also very angry with him for all the ways he had hurt me and still continued to create suffering in those around him. I was angry because I knew that the sensitivity was there. I had experienced it on rare occasions. But I felt like him not honoring that sensitivity and allowing it to be expressed… which included creatively… robbed me of something that I had always hungered for.
His illness progressed pretty rapidly and it was a race to see if he would live long enough to make it to my wedding. But he did. He flew 3,000 miles from Pennsylvania to be with me as I married for the first time.
Even though I had been in contact with him over the phone, I hadn’t seen him for a few months, and when I did come face to face with him it was clear that something had changed.
My husband and I were married at a hippy retreat center in Northern California that was dedicated to the goddess Isis and included all kinds of California idiosyncrasies like housing built out of water towers, wildly gilded temples and altars painted with shooting stars.
Normally, this was the kind of thing that would send my father into a sarcastic tirade of judgment. But he was curious. And open. Asking thoughtful questions instead of spouting off uneducated opinions as if they were fact which is something he would have done in the past.
At my wedding he sat with my friends and listened to them with open hearted interest and even offered sage advice. People were coming up to me and asking me if my father was some kind of guru.
All I could say in response was “What???” and “You’ve got to be kidding!! The father that I know is a bigoted and opinionated jerk.”
At this point the cancer had gone into his brain. And I joked around with those closest to me that the cancer had eaten away at the asshole part of him leaving behind the sensitivity that I always knew was there.
After the wedding my parents came back home with us so that we could spend some time together as a family before my new husband and I went off on our Italian honeymoon. But it was pretty clear as soon as we arrived that my father was beginning to die in earnest. He had valiantly managed to keep going long enough to attend my wedding and now his work was done.
In the span of a couple of days he lost the ability to talk and his swallowing was being compromised. We knew that we had to get him on a plane soon if he was going to have the chance to die in his own home.
Those last couple of days that we spent together, as his body continued to shut down, were incredibly emotionally powerful.
And on the morning of his departure we experienced what felt to me like a bona-fide miracle.
He and I were sitting in the sun porch having breakfast while the rest of the family was bustling around getting ready to leave for the airport.
He couldn’t talk at all at this point and I didn’t have many words myself. I knew this would be our last time together and I wanted something, but didn’t know exactly what.
On the windowsill of the sun porch, there was a red flowering Amaryllis plant growing in a pot and it was in full and glorious bloom. My father had always been a big fan of nature and for some reason I was moved to bring that pot with the flower onto the table and set it between us.
That simple but gorgeous plant became a wordless prayer of beauty and love. It was an offering. A way of paying homage to the artist soul in us both. He looked at that red, luscious full-of-life flower and looked into my eyes and then gently stroked my cheek. Something I don’t ever remember him doing in my entire life.
In that moment I felt seen by him for the very first time. Acknowledged and appreciated. Cherished. And something ancient and hard and hurting in me softened and healed.
I still don’t think that he understood me any more than he ever had, but it didn’t matter. All that was important was our silent acknowledgment that we were two fumbling humans who had traveled a long and winding path together.
There had been pain and fear and disappointment on both sides. Frustration. Misunderstandings. Often distance. But the bottom line was that we were kin.
Father and daughter, yes. Bound by a complicated yet powerful love. But that tender morning we were also able to step into the universal connection with all of life that could allow the sacred loveliness of a flower or a painting or a piece of music to open our hearts.
And to finally see our deep devotion to the mystery of that beauty mirrored in each others eyes.