Today I learned of the passing of a dear friend from the obituaries in our local newspaper. He was an inspiration to me from the first day I met him, and though he could have easily been a critic, he chose instead to encourage. Today I say my goodbye to ‘The Artist’.
That’s the only name I knew him by. When I first met him at Golden Oaks Retirement Village, I shook his hand, told him my name and asked his. He looked up at me from under his OU ballcap and said, “I’m an artist.” And so he was.
He always showed up for the church services, and many times was there early, playing dominoes with other folks there. I asked the group once if they were playing by the rules, to which he responded with an ornery grin, “Well, I sure am trying to.”
One Sunday, when we finished church, I announced that I would be doing a ‘chalk talk’ the next time. He perked up as I explained I would be illustrating my next message using chalk pastels. He told me he would be looking forward to it.
I was privileged to see many of his works in his room, and once got to see a work in progress. I knew that if anyone would have credible critique, it would be him. Nervously, the next service, I set up my board and pulled out my message. I began to draw… and sweat!
The Artist watched my every move. He would tilt his head, as if to try and understand what I was drawing- and for a second, I wondered if I could make sense out of it. It sure was harder than I ever thought it would be. On I preached, and on he watched.
I preached from Psalm 124, “Blessed be the Lord, who hath not given us as a prey to their teeth. Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are escaped. Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” I drew as well as I could an illustration of a sparrow taking flight from a net, torn open by the two nail-pierced hands of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We bowed our heads for a closing prayer, sang a hymn, and dismissed. I shook hands with everyone who came, as I normally did, but I waited til the very last to greet The Artist. I was sweating even harder now.
“Well,” I ventured as he gripped my hand, “what did you think?”
I could see the wrinkles of a smile brightening his face. His eyes focused on mine as he offered his honest opinion: “At least,” he grinned, “you can tell it’s a bird!”
So was the life and work of the man I only ever knew as The Artist. I drew several more times for the services, and he was always there with a cheerful quip, and a crimson-and-cream colored cap.
As I re-read his obituary, I wish I had known more about his colorful history. I know no life is perfectly picturesque, but as he brushed the canvas of time, he left his mark on this ‘chalk talk’ preacher.
The Proverb for the day The Artist went to Heaven speaks volumes, and paints the portrait I’ll always remember of him: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” (Proverb 25:11)