It has been a couple of weeks since I returned to Kansas from my winter in Florida, and I found the reentry a bit harder than usual. Living in two places isn’t easy, especially when you have bonded with elements from both places. While it’s nice to always look forward to each unique environment, the work of adjusting can be unsettling, and it takes a while to feel at home again.
My classes are up and running here, and it was great to see everyone so eager and inspired to draw and paint again. Art truly is a magnet to some of the coolest people on the planet. It seems that no matter where I go to teach, I attract the same type of people, with common and similar attitudes and interests. Creating art with these people is such a thrill, and so inspiring.
I also returned to the nursing home to work with my therapy dog, Jackie. Adjusting to two homes isn’t easy for her either. Since my Florida schedule was so heavy and I a book deadline, I didn’t do volunteer work with Jackie while we were there. I was very concerned that her sabbatical undid some of her training, and that she had decided that being just a “pet” was preferable. I hoped she had held on to her ability to share her love with others. We had been pretty solitary for the last few months.
I took her to the groomer to prepare her for her day at the medical facility. Dog owners are required through Pet Partners to have our canines bathed and groomed each time we visit, to keep them clean and hygienic. She definitely remembered this place, and it took both me and the owner to get her up the stairs to the bathtub. But, once in and lathered up, she seemed to soften, as if to remember why we were doing this.
By the time we pulled into the parking lot of the nursing home, all glossy and smelling good with doggie cologne, Jackie was excited. Her tail began to not only wag, but go in a circle like a propellor as it does when she’s really happy. If the windows had been down, I’m afraid she would’ve hovered right out of the car! I could tell she knew where we were.
We entered the building and she led me straight to the director’s office to get the show on the road. It was so wonderful to see everyone again, yet a bit heartbreaking to get the updates on some of the residents who had passed away while I was gone. It’s one of the dilemmas of working in geriatrics.
We started our rounds, and Jackie was in peak performance. She was on command like a true professional. For a couple of hours she greeted, loved, and encouraged more than 50 residents. She has a unique gift of acting different with each person, sensing their needs and emotions. I was so proud. Her training had not only stuck, it seemed to have enhanced during our time off. It was if she had given me the time I needed to do my work, and now, she was doing hers. What a great team we are.
Visiting these elderly folks gives me an amazing perspective. They tell me about their lives, including their own pets that they once had, and share their stories. Looking at them you can’t help but see the sum total of a life well lived, and people who were well loved. Here they are now, close to the end of their personal life story, quietly waiting for the last page to be turned. What an honor to be there, and be a part of those stories. It will be me sooner than I like to admit, and I hope, when my turn comes, that someone will care enough to listen to me.
Art: A Bright Spot in a Long Winter
Before I had left for Florida last season, I made 4×6 photos of some of my artwork, and took them to the nursing home. I had about seven images and I allowed some of the residents to pick one. Last week I was so happy to see that many still had them, put up on a mirror, or actually framed and displayed with their personal items. Some told me that my art had been a bright spot in a very long, cold winter. There are no words to say how much that meant to me.
When you give a bit of yourself to others, the rewards are huge. It not only warms your heart, but it anchors you into a sense of purpose. That type of personal investment in others recharges your battery. Visiting with the elderly or the sick gives you an appreciation of how fleeting time is, and how short our lives really are. It makes you know what your true desires are, and how much energy we devote to things that don’t matter. Worry, anger, stress, and other negative emotions seem useless and unworthy of our attention, for it will all be over in the blink of an eye.
It inspires me. I see what my artwork and teaching mean to others, so I’ll continue to share that inspiration. I see how my words can encourage and give comfort, so I’ll always try to use my voice to help others. Contrast, you see, is our biggest teacher. When you see what you DON’T want, you find what you do want. Learn your life lessons, by giving to others, and seeing what life is like for somebody else. Then love your life, and share it.
Back to the old drawing board!
Until next time…
Edited by Cherie Haas, online editor of ArtistsNetwork.com
Lee Hammond has been called the Queen of Drawing. That may not be fair these days, since in addition to providing the best drawing lessons, she has also created fantastic books and videos filled with the same easy to follow acrylic painting techniques, colored pencil techniques and more. Click here to see all of the instructional books and DVDs that Lee Hammond has to offer!
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