The White Wall

new yard path 1“I wish I’d paid better attention. I didn’t yet think of time as finite. I didn’t fully appreciate the stories she told me until I became adult, and by then I had to make do with snippets pasted together, a film projected on the back of my mind.”
—Jessica Maria Tuccelli, Glow

I am at that time in life. I want to ask:

“Did he give me a music box covered with pink roses?”

“Did you go to Fisk?”

“Did you give new meaning to Debutante Ball—with the busboy?”

But they are all gone, the people that could answer those questions.

Years ago, I don’t remember which television news magazine reported it, I saw a story about a woman, an artist, who had received a devastating diagnosis: she had an aneurysm that could burst at any moment and she would die.

She lived with this knowledge for a year. A moment-by-moment experience of life. After a year, they discovered that she had been misdiagnosed.

This is what I remember about her back-story.

Sometime after that year, a gallery owner came to her studio. He noticed a subtle, but significant difference between her paintings. She told him her story and they realized that the differences he noticed reflected that year of living with the knowledge that life, time for her, was finite. There was a distinct before and after to her work.

He wanted a gallery show that told that story. They decided on a mural that would take up one wall of the gallery. She wanted it to be done with pastels. She wanted it to be up for one month, and one month only. And she wanted the opening to be reserved for people who were living with a terminal diagnosis.

I believe she spent a month on the mural, weeping as she worked, her fingers bleeding from working pastel onto plaster. As I remember the mural, it was a series of framed scenes, scenes as you would see them through a window, as if you were doing something mundane, happened to look up, and see a snippet of life. Simple but glorious.

At the opening, the invited guests passed through slowly, weeping. Weeping with joy and sorrow.

After one month, she stepped back to look at it one more time, then wept again as she took scrub brush in hand and washed away her work of love and passion.

But a ghost of the image remained. The gallery, with her permission, covered it with white paint.

In a way, it was the coat of white paint that touched me the most. Behind it, the ghost of the mural remains.

I have come to think that that is how it is when we die. We disappear behind the coat of white paint, but the ghost of our experience remains—in the memory and hearts of those who experienced us.

I stand with my back to the white wall, its coat of paint between me and the people who are gone. I have memories, some vivid and clear, others misty and muddled. I cannot verify any of them. I cannot point to them as facts. But I trust their presence behind that coat of white paint, and that their presence in my life has shaped it.

6 thoughts on “The White Wall

  1. Hello Karen…My brother Mark was born 58 years ago yesterday…Sept. 11 I have been thinking of him…he took his life …and your post came at a meaningful time for me…He was many things…but always my little brother….thankyou..

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  2. Thank you, excellent writer Karen!’
    This is a lovely piece and I read it in celebration of the life of Deacon Peter J Flatley.

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  3. Karen beautifully written. What a precious gift to know your thoughts, your words, could touch others in such a way that it could bring a measure of comfort to them. The written word is so powerful. My wife Debbie is a writer and a speaker. I see how what she shares has impacted so many peoples lives. The written word is the best way to communicate. If someone truly loves what they have read they will pass it on.

    On another note, a few months ago, I was unpacking boxes and came across my high school year books. Looking through my junior year book I came across the senior photo of Tom Darter. His photo reminded me of you. My memory is failing me, but didn’t the two of way end up marrying? I know you were close friends.

    I am wondering if you, as the former Granada class president, have continued to organize class reunions? We celebrated our 50 year. I have to say I was a bit disappointed in the turn out. We only had about 90 people, including spouses. I am not certain if we will plan a 55th. How are you doing with the crazy season we find ourselves in? We no more than got to our new home, and got partially settled in, when the virus put the state of AZ in a lock down. Other than our oldest son, and his family, we literally know no one. These are certainly interesting times we find ourselves in.

    Thank you for writing back and sharing your post. If I remember correctly you were valedictorian of your class. Hows that for being random? Oh the things we remember. Take care of yourself. If ever in the Phoenix area look us up.

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    • Ray, Yes indeed, Tom Darter and I got married in 1996. He’s lovely, talented, and thoughtful man.

      I haven’t been involved in reunions for the last couple. I was living up here in Washington so couldn’t make it to our 50th. Don’t know what the turnout was like. I’m kind of thinking that this virus thing will likely be with us for another year or year and half so we might not be able to the the 55th.

      I had no idea you moved to Phoenix. I assume you moved there from Livermore (or Pleasanton). That’s a big change!

      I was not the valedictorian, but I appreciate that you think I was!

      You were always a gentleman in the best definition of the word. I appreciate you for that.

      Karen

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