I haven’t written in some time. Writing has been a form of therapy for me, for many years. Mind you, I’m not “cured” of anything. I still suffer from depression and I still have issues in fighting off dogmatic thinking from years back.
Perhaps it is because I have matured, or found my laughter again. Or because I have learned to live life for me. Or is it that I have learned to plow the negativity from my now more peaceful existence.
With the death of a very old friend, whom I will simply refer to as Mr. Nelson, as I have known him since my early teens, I have had a great deal of time to reflect on lessons learned in my earlier years as a child from the rez, the people by whom I was surrounded and by the ones who made a profound impact on my life. Mr. Nelson made such an impression on me that it has lasted decades.
Meeting him was a next to nothing chance. I was introduced to him on a musical level. It remained there until he caught me sketching during a break from rehearsal, in a back hallway of the theater. He walked past me, stopped, and came back, sitting down on the floor next to me, saying nothing.
I was terrified of him.
When I was finished with my drawing, he took it from my hands and studied it.
“Why don’t you draw their faces?”
“Because I can’t see them. They change too often in my mind.”
“May I buy this from you?”
“No sir, but I’ll give it to you.”
Mr. Nelson smiled, patted me on the head and then he hugged me. My own parents had not hugged me in years. He stood up, took my hand and pulled me up. Then promptly walked me back to the rest of the class. He talked to me the entire way.
“You don’t have a gift, child. You have a talent. And like all talented people, you will have to work hard to perfect your craft. Someday, you’ll find a way to make their eyes come to life. When you find that, hold on to it and don’t let anyone tell you it’s not right or proper. That’s where true artistry comes to life. In how a think makes you FEEL.”
I had the chance to talk to him many times over the next few years. He was always supportive, yet critical of my art. He always made a point to look through every single sketch, whether I was happy with it or not. At times, I’d see him study one longer than others. I always made sure he took it with him. It was my only way of saying thank you to him. He always accepted them gracefully. I accepted his mentoring, and he accepted my art.
I have wanted many times to go visit him again over the past 10 years, but never had the opportunity to make the trip home.
It is perhaps my only regret. I never had the chance, as an adult, to tell him how much his time meant to a native kid from the rez.
He instilled a passion for art in me that I still hold in the highest regard.
Mr. Nelson, I will miss your generosity, your heart and your passion for what you loved.
I will carry your friendship for the rest of my life.