God bless the carburetor

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In the early 90s I got on a Greyhound headed to Washington, D.C., from Richmond, Virginia. The last person to board the bus was a woman in her sixties, petite but formidable and formally dressed.

She paused at the platform next to the driver, at the very front of the bus, and at first I thought she was talking very loudly to the driver. Then I realized it was a prayer.  “Dear Lord, please watch over this bus!” Then she began to pray for each part of the bus: the wheels, the brakes, the wipers, the engine. It went on for a minute or so. Then the driver. Then she extended her prayers to the rest of us: “And watch over each of these passengers and bring us all safely to our destination.”

She calmly sat down, the driver closed the door, and the bus headed out.

Needless to say, we didn’t have any accidents.

This was twenty years ago, but I remember her so clearly. I remember realizing that her attention to detail was not so much about God blessing each thing, it was about how good we are at blaming ourselves when we go through trauma. How we think there was something we should have done more or less or differently.

She was dressing herself very carefully and she was going to pray for each thing, because after that, it would be on God if something happened. She had done what she could do.

There are a lot of times, both in life and in the studio, when I struggle with things that are unexpected and uncomfortable.When it would be easy to get caught up thinking about what I should have done more or less or differently.

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I had the basic image for this painting with a man and some fish and lots of A’s quite a while ago, but boy, was it a hassle. The colors were wrong, the background was wrong, then I would get the face in and the next day realize one eye was off, which is completely heartbreaking. I had to sand down about a third of the canvas because it was just too lumpy. You get the idea. I persisted, and some things about the finished piece are still a surprise to me, but it works.

Now I am sure that woman went through some serious events. That behavior would not have been triggered by something small, at least in my experience. But what I learned from her is that instead of trying to cover my bases, I want to try to minimize my regrets another way, by trying to get the most out of the painful bits so that they have a purpose. In the end, I think my mistakes, my pain over my mistakes, and my caring enough to persist, are what imbues my work with whatever life it has. And life itself too.

But still, a little prayer magic doesn’t hurt, so I wish you all “safely to your destination!”

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