Apifera Farm - where art, story, animals & woman merge. Home to artist Katherine Dunn

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©Katherine Dunn.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Small gestures, lasting impacts

I felt a need to write this after a conversation Friday with a young artist who reminded me of the power of invisible gifts.

Back when I was single, young, and clean, living in Minneapolis, I had a heartbreak I thought would never heal. A boy I loved had left me behind and at the time it felt like all doors were shutting out the sun. Such drama, I know. I remember the first Sunday after our break up I was so despondent, I didn't know what to do with myself. I really needed to do something, anything, to take my mind of my patheticness, and with my throat cold all but over, I ventured out. The world seemed really big, and noisy.

I am not a church goer, preferring to commune in woods or pastures, enjoying the sermons of birds or wind. But in the spattering of church sermons I had attended, I did occasionally experience epiphanies. Deciding now would be a good time for an ephinany, I found myself sitting down in one of Minneapolis' older churches, known for it's historic building and accomplished choir, not to mention a pipe organ.

I fumbled through the various rituals, not really knowing what I was supposed to do, but I was so morose in my pathetic way that it didn't matter. Any movement on my part was good for me in this state, even if it was mumbling words from a Bible I knew nothing about. Even though my cold was mostly over, there was still a little something lurking in my throat, and of course it decided to rumble right as I sat down in the pew. I clutched a hankie to my mouth, holding in my coughs, when what I really wanted to do was just let it rip. I'm sure I was annoying to be near, but as I held my coughs in as best I could, the elderly woman next to me reached over, and handed me a throat lozenges. She smiled sincerely at me, and patted my hand gently. And then she turned away to listen to the minister. It was the tenderest gesture I had had in a week, and it did not feel the least bit judgmental, just a helping hand and a pat as if to say, "It'll be alright." I wanted to cry. I wanted to sit on her aged lap in a fetal position and tell her how safe she made me feel. She thought she was helping out a person with a cough, little did she know my wounds were much deeper.

That moment comes to me often, even though it happened almost 20 years ago. The elderly woman has most likely passed away, but the effect of her simple gesture lives on.

As I was working last week, a little piece of art sitting near my desk, reminded me of a young artist who had recently visited my studio. She had really liked the particular piece, and wondered if I had a print of it that she could buy. I didn't, and we went about other conversation. The young woman had come from out of town to meet me, and explained I was a role model for her. Remembering all this, something clicked in me and I stopped what I was doing, wrapped that little piece of art up and sent it off to her in the day's mail drop. Yesterday, I had a phone call from her, and as she began to speak, I could hear she was crying a little. She was so overwhelmed with the surprise gift, and she tried to convey what it meant to her.

My phone conversation over, I thought of that elderly woman in the church of many years ago. I did not have the words to tell her what her small gesture meant to me. It made me feel loved, and worthy. The phone call from my younger artist friend made me feel loved, and worthy. I am so grateful she expressed this to me.

I guess we all do little tiny things in daily life, and many of those things make huge, lasting impacts on others. I'm so flawed. I was feeling a bit misunderstood when the day began. But after this call, I remembered that I can make impacts on others. And they on me.