When I am at home in Provence, I have a regular practice of going out to my rock to meditate, walking on the hillside, and practicing silence as I seek ways to open myself to receive. Some days I find it rather simple to enter into a contemplative state of mind, while other days I find myself tangled in my thoughts. One of these thoughts that kept creeping into my mind in recent days was what to paint for this week’s livestream demo. For the past few months, I have been painting every Wednesday evening and broadcasting my demos online. I have done still lifes, portraits, landscapes and terrace scenes from my home. What could I do a bit differently this time, that would have meaning and purpose? Perhaps something I have been wishing to paint but have never gotten around to doing… The thought lingered in my mind without any immediate solution.
Then came an idea – why don’t I paint my father’s riding boots? Van Gogh painted his shoes and a pair of boots and even a group of shoes and boots. My father’s boots have a lot of character with the years of use still obvious in the worn leather and in the folds around the ankle area as if he had just stepped out of them. Could it be that it has been over 20 years since he wore them?
I brought them down off the shelf. Saddle soaping them released the smell of the leather. Polishing the boots recalled my father’s disciplined ritual of preparing for the hunt. The folds around the ankles seemed to speak of his particular person. His presence invaded me like a balm. So many thoughts murmured their way into my being. It woke up a particular reading from all the readings my father used to read to us, as we (all four sisters) sat on the floor listening in front of the fireplace at the farm cleaning our tack and preparing for the hunt the next morning.
The excerpt I recalled my father reading us is from “Remembrance of Things Past” by Marcel Proust.
“I feel that there is much to be said for the Celtic belief that the souls of those whom we have lost are held captive in some inferior being, in an animal, in a plant, in some inanimate object, and so effectively lost to us until the day (which to many never comes) when we happen to pass by the tree or to obtain possession of the object which forms their prison. Then they start and tremble, they call us by our name, and as soon as we have recognized their voice the spell is broken. We have delivered them: they have overcome death and return to share our life. And so it is with our own past. It is a labor in vain to attempt to recapture it: all the efforts of our intellect must prove futile. The past is hidden somewhere outside the realm, beyond the reach of intellect, in some material object (in the sensation which that material object will give us) which we do not suspect. And as for that object, it depends on chance whether we come upon it or not before we ourselves must die.”
It was as though my father had called out and my soul heard. I recognized his voice. It had been imprisoned in the boots, unanimated and forgotten. The brush strokes went onto the canvas translating that voice into a new spiritual language of presence. I felt a fullness come over me. I lived and I remembered and I loved. Thank you for your visit, Daddy. I had been missing you and I didn’t even know it. I love you.