Oil Painting from March 2020 Entitled “Pandemic Rainbow”
While I give it my best to be the adult and hopefully a halfway decent parent, often it is my children who end up guiding and grounding me.
One example of this was mid-March 2020. We were far enough in to know that COVID was serious, but it was still a largely inconceivable looming horror that had hardly begun to hit home. I had followed the story since before the disease cancelled Lunar New Year celebrations abroad, so I was not quite as surprised as some seemed to be. Still, I am pretty sure I was in shock.
Honestly, I think I might still be in shock.
At that time, though, my brain still wanted to treat COVID as a theoretical construct, not something…real. I had yet to have a case reach the outskirts of my personal orbit, let alone see a dear one pass or begin to experience the painful details of how everything would go. I was already thinking of collateral concerns that for so many were already more pressing than the disease but, for me, it was all processing like a computer with too many programs running, a computer with not just a mind, but a heart that was overwhelmed as well…and I know I was among the luckier ones…
The first case was confirmed on Long Island by March 5th. A week later, in what felt like a watershed moment, the NBA suspended its season right at the tipoff of a Jazz/Thunders game while at the same time Tom Hanks told the world he was sick. The next day a “temporary” school closing was announced, followed promptly by the shutdown of just about everything.
Teachers, parents and children turned on a dime to transform education as offices also emptied into homes. Overnight, Zoom went from being a cool app someone had suggested we play with, to the platform that would host most human encounters for the next two years.
In true apocalyptic fashion, folks that couldn’t stay home were suddenly being called heroes. This was an honor some immediately warned was less than empty and that others are actively praying we will more substantially appreciate to this day. Given the scarcity of tests and plethora of potential symptoms, it was fairly impossible to tell whether one had hay fever or might kill grandma.
This was just a sliver of the world’s hardships, with some facing suffering far worse than others. Already, we were realizing there wasn’t even sufficient protective gear for nurses. Hoarding was a concern. We were in it deep. There was hardly any toilet paper. Coming together as a nation seemed sadly and painfully less likely than ever, but at least folks were washing their hands.
With hardly any discussion it suddenly became perfectly legal to get take-out cocktails. Fellow Gen Xers were filling my Facebook newsfeed the way many of my friends do when things are stressful, scary and beyond our control: One part public service announcement, two parts “how y’all doin’ out there?” and three parts bad jokes as we collectively decided this was all way too serious not to laugh. It all seemed terribly surreal, especially when paired with the emergence of Tiger King, the unbelievable, utterly meme-able Netflix documentary about an ill-fated private zookeeper. We didn’t watch it here, but we couldn’t miss it either. Somehow, it seemed to fit.
Me? I was doing what I generally do in times of crisis, shunting aside feelings and endeavoring to be useful, going into overdrive to keep things moving and to share news of so many wonderful folks I saw giving it their best to be of service…teachers, human service providers, scientists and so many folks who sew or learned to sew just for the occasion. Grateful for so many artists and librarians rising to a quarantined call, I was also warmed by the concept of “Rainbows across Nassau and Suffolk Counties,” which were largely drawn by children and starting to appear everywhere.
I thought it would be nice to publish one. I asked my youngest, who had just turned 12, “Would you please draw me a rainbow for my newsletter?”
My daughter is a born artist. It’s just who she is. At this particular time in life, she was also (hopefully) at a height of adolescent prickliness toward her mother. Perhaps, this time at least, it was well deserved. She gave me a drawing she wouldn’t have been satisfied with when she was three.
“I’m not using this.”
“Well, I’m not putting your name on it.”
So…I used it. Without her name. She was fine with that.
A few days later, I was up late working. It was sometime after midnight when she emerged from her room, came to my desk and thrust her arm forward.
“You want my rainbow? Here’s my rainbow!”
I looked at it, a ragged, shaken assault of color. Marks that looked like tiger swipes tore through it. Other areas were marred by splotches of brown as though dirt and other…stuff…had been hurled at it. Smears of white evoked flashes of terror…and…contagion….
I was stricken to see my heart laid bare on her canvas. Her heart laid bare on her canvas?
“I’ve never used oils before,” she said, her voice sweet and childlike as she considered her work. Funny how they switch back and forth so suddenly at that age, “I’m really pleased with how I got this wash along the edges…”
She’d always been all about the process, even when she was three…
I looked her in the eye. She looked back. Words went unspoken. Feelings, however, I think, transmitted. She retreated to the room that would become her fortress, her cocoon for the next several months.
The painting remained beside me, saying more than either she or I had words for. It got me to pause. It got me to think. It forced me to allow the weight of the situation to settle, to allow her the space she needed to process, to be a bit more mindful with her and all I encountered.
The work was soon followed by a similarly abstract piece entitled “Earth Day.”
“I sure hope we get it together.” was all she said.
Prints of “Pandemic Rainbow” (top of article) and “Earth Day” (immediately above) are available at The Firefly Artists in Northport. While she’s not nearly as attached to them as I am, the originals are not for sale. I am grateful to the galley for hosting these pieces, and for everyone who gives it their best to make the best of things and guide others to see the light. It matters more than we know. Thank you.