The Joy of the Masterpiece
By Kristen Rhead Sweeney
It was a typical cold, foggy, fall day in
. The moisture in the air was thick and heavy. I wasn’t sure if the chill I felt was from the moist fog or from the dreary feeling of sadness that hung over me. London
My youngest daughter had left a few weeks earlier for college and I couldn’t seem to shake my feelings of gloominess. I really had no reason to be sad. My daughter was a brilliant student. My sons had served honorable missions for our church, had graduated themselves, and were well on their way to successful careers. My children are happily married, have deep faith and are raising their own young families in the gospel.
“So why the tears?” I asked myself. I didn’t know the answer. And as I sat on my couch, curled up in a quilt, sipping a cup of hot cocoa and looking through the family photo album I allowed the tears to generously flow down my cheeks.
Finally I had had enough. I got myself dressed, sloppily indeed, but dressed well enough and headed across town to my mother’s flat. She was pleasantly surprised to see me on her doorstep. She took me in her arms. My mother is a sweet old woman, just half my size, but her soul is enormous. She is strong and sometimes even fierce, but her touch is gentle and kind. Even at this age in my life I still sometimes need my mother’s touch.
I lamented to her my situation, forgetting that she herself had gone through the very same thing with me and my siblings as we grew up. She gave me warm hugs and kind words of encouragement. Then she suggested we take a walk in the park.
We walked through the neighborhood to
Hyde Park. I always loved Hyde Park. I remember going as a little girl and being fascinated by the jugglers and musicians. I took my own children to Hyde Park as well. We spent many wonderful afternoons flying kites and having picnics. Our favorite thing was to find the chalk artists. They would create the most beautiful masterpieces right on the sidewalk. They would color skiers racing down the Alps, or brightly trimmed sailboats floating on the river, or woman in fancy dresses with feathered hats and parasols, sipping their tea on Sunday afternoons. Their pictures rivaled the masters ~ Renoir and Monet.
Mother and I strolled through the park enjoying the day even though it was cold and cloudy. We came upon an old chalk artist. He had been sketching his chalk creations for as long as I could remember. His face was weathered and wrinkled and his hair was thin and grey. But he was a friendly old artist and he often had an exciting story to tell about his works of art.
On this particular day he had colored a beautiful scene. It was families at the park. The grass was dazzling green, children chased their kites, mothers held their babies, and fathers threw the ball. The sun was shining in a brilliant blue sky and all the illustrated characters were truly happy and thoroughly enjoying their lovely animated day on the sidewalk.
The scene of happy picnickers at the park suddenly made my sorrow return.
“If only our wonderful days at the park could stay just like that forever.” I lamented to Mother. Our old artist friend overheard my wishful thinking.
“Ah, but if this one stayed forever, I wouldn’t get to draw the next.” He said as he bowed his head, lifted his cap and smiled.
Just then the cold and threatening clouds crashed. Drops of rain began to fall and people began to quickly scatter. Mother and I pulled out our umbrella for shelter. We stood near the old artist and watched the raindrops slowly fall on his masterpiece. Each drop of rain blurred the happy families little by little.
“It’s so sad” I said as I watched the little children in the picture turn into colorful sweeping streaks of chalk.
“Oh no, it’s not sad at all.” The old man assured me.
“But how can you just watch all of your hard work wash away?” I asked pointing to the wet, blurry figures that were now hardly recognizable.
He could see that I did not understand. His eyes looked into mine and I could see great wisdom.
“Don’t you spend hours and hours on each one of your pictures? And now they are gone!” I insisted in feeling wretched about it. The raindrops splashed against the ground and his masterpiece was now just a distorted smudge of colors.
“Look!” I said. “How can it be worth it to spend so much time and effort on something that is so easily gone? You spend time on your hands and knees taking care of every detail.”
“Yes.” He smiled and showed me his calloused hands and his worn trousers. “I do spend hours and hours on each one of my masterpieces. I labor over every line, every color, making sure every detail is just exactly as it should be.”
“Is it worth it?” I honestly wondered.
“Of course. Everyday it is a joy to create such a masterpiece. I love every splash of purple in my lilacs. I thrill at every brilliant blue sky. I rejoice in every leaf I color in different shades of green and every pebble I color different shades of brown. I delight in creating the family on a picnic or the king at his feast, or the carousel at the fair. Every brilliant color and every fine detail brings me great joy. And,” he said smiling at Mother and me “it brings me such pleasure when people, like yourself, stroll by and stop to look and enjoy the picture I have created.”
“But it’s so much work. And now it’s gone. Is it really worth it?” Tears filled my eyes and the words caught in my throat. “How can you keep on working and working and working just to watch it all go away?”
The rain continued to fall around us but suddenly I wasn’t cold anymore, my heart began to burn, and I realized I was no longer talking just about sidewalk art. My heart, my sad mother’s heart, wanted to know if all the hard work, all the time on hands and knees, all the careful thought, and all the careful focus on every detail… was really all worth it? Because now it was gone.
The sweet, wise, old artist saw my sadness and understood, even if I did not. He took my hands into his and gently said “Of course it really is worth it, because the joy of creating the masterpiece is worth the pain of letting it go.”
Tears, mingled with raindrops, ran down my face. Now I knew why my mother brought me to the park on that cold, wet day. She smiled a reassuring smile with a comforting wink of her eye. I finally understood. I was still a bit sad, but now I understood. The joy in creating a masterpiece, the joy in every detail of my children’s lives, every soccer game, every skinned knee, every piano lesson, every first date, every late night, every tear, every triumph… every detail was worth it. It was the joy in creating that I needed to remember.
On that cold, foggy and rainy day in
I finally understood and I was thankful for the joy I had in creating a few masterpieces of my own. London