I have a painting at my parent’s house that I would love in our home if my wife didn’t think it was too big. It’s not what anyone would consider a masterpiece. In fact, along with the painter, I may be the only one who likes it (one of my friends ever have). I own it because I rescued it from the trash pile from a building clean up. Decades later it still captivates me.
I could physically describe the painting, but I don’t think that would do it justice. I’d rather attempt to impart the response it provokes in me each time I see it. To do that, I’ll share a character sketch I wrote for English 1010 my first semester at Austin Peay. In it, I describe the man I imagined as the subject of that painting. This is exactly as I wrote it twenty years ago with the exception of a few e corrected typos (the other bits of bad writing are left intact for, uh, historical accuracy).
The tie must always garner attention for him. Not because of the perfectly tied Windsor knot or the way the blue cloth drapes gracefully down his chest, but because he is the only individual sporting one. His tie makes a statement: here is a man who takes care with appearance. His shoes do bear scuffs, but it is apparent that the ivory leather adorned with dulled silver buckles is polished to a shine each and every morning, hiding the soles worn down by years of use. His dark, forest colored slacks hang loosely and cannot hide the frailness of his twisted legs. Once taut ropes of muscle now deteriorate beneath his beige-green shirt, the right collar slightly warped by the humidity. Still, the tie sets him above the rest, finishing his ensemble like an exclamation point.
He sits with his hands folded quietly in his lap. He is not scowling to himself or mumbling as are some of the others. Instead, he simply rests there, a strange emotion clouding over him. Finally, he turns toward the dim illumination of the table lamp. His face becomes more visible as does his age. he bears the mark of the years. His cheeks have a slightly hollow look to them and the laugh lines about his eyes are well worn in. Scars from long past wars accent the silver wisps of his retreating hair. Only his eyes appear not to have been dimmed by age. There is a youthful sparkle in them still, but they take a moment to focus while pondering past memories.
His eyes return and he assesses what her finds before him. He seems pleased to have a visitor for his thin lips part and spread to reveal a toothy grin which spills happiness into the room. A moment of silence is followed by a rapid succession of questions aimed at him. Suddenly, his smile fades and his face melts into a melancholy expression. His eyes slide shut as he shakes his head slightly. Tension hangs heavy in the air until he releases an ageless sigh. He slumps further downward in his wheelchair. A palsied hand rises and nimbly brushes the throat beneath his strong chin. His hand hesitates a moment, then, while trembling, closes a bit. With a finger missing from the top joint, he points to the scars on his face. His other hand, gnarled as the roots of a mighty oak, begins to softly stroke the plastic armrest beneath it while his legs shift restlessly to and fro. His eyes become wet with the quiet tears tracing a path down his worn and weathered face. He looks up in silent apology, but once again his eyes seem focused on some distant place and time gone by.
Abruptly, his gaze shifts back to the present. His knuckles whiten with a tightening grip. Veins bulge in his once powerful forearms, echoing the determined set of his jaw. His legs push feebly at the floor. Then, in one mighty effort, the wheelchair begins to turn. Inch by inch the chair rotates until a small sign on the chair’s metal side comes in to view. He pushes himself up straight and pride blossoms on his reddened face. His fingers brush the orange paper of his sign. he points to it, nods, and begins to tap it expectantly. It is a simple sign. On it there’s a blue, stenciled hand pointing skyward. Next to the hand are two simple words: “One Way.” I look back up, meet his eyes, and return his nod.
I’m comfortable saying I’m the only person who gets that particular image from the painting. I’m not sure why, but it does inspire me, just as the gentleman I imagined would were I able to meet him. When I look at that painting, I’m captivated by the idea of someone not bound by his age, infirmities, or lot in life, but abounding with a precious positive attitude. I want to meet that man. I want to be that man.
I have no idea what the artist intended, but for me it is a painting of hope. Those brushstrokes tell me I can be better. I can choose to view the world and my place in it differently. I can grow past the scars. I can ignore the frustrations. I can look beyond what others see, much as I have with that painting, and truly see what is right in front of me.
If I can so it, so can you. Just imagine what we could accomplish together.