Monday, December 8, 2008
Here's a new work by my friend Patricia Freeman Martin, from her new book: "The Diary of Uncle Billy." This chapter is about the pink walls in the basement bedroom.
I love this painting. I don't have an uncle Billy, nor a bedroom basement with pink walls, but I love pink.
My first memory was pink. I was 3. It was late afternoon and I was waking up from a nap. The sunlight streamed through the curtains and hit the pink walls just right. The room was soft and glowing. I remember appreciating the color, and the moment. It was so pretty, and it was such a good nap. I wanted to remember the moment forever.
Twenty one years later, I saw another glowing room, in a land far away, that struck me as particularly beautiful. The color was gold, and the room was a church.
In 1989, when I was 24, I took myself and a backpack to Europe for a big, three month solo adventure. Everyone thought I was so brave, traveling alone. No cell phones back then meant an occasional call home every few weeks to my mom from distant, foreign phone booths confirmed I was alive and well. I had to save up exotic looking coins in different currencies just to call her.
I was certainly alive one rainy day in Italy, but I was exhausted and lonely when I happened upon an ancient Catholic church in the late afternoon. I was wet and a bit miserable. An obvious tourist, I was even wearing shorts.
I slipped into the back of the church, despite the glares of the stout women dressed in black, wearing sturdy shoes and holding big wooden rosary beads. There was no service going on, just a few old people scattered about praying. I wanted one of them to greet me, light a candle for me, and maybe take me home and feed me some spaghetti.
My cousins are Catholic, so I knew how to do that fake half-kneeling thing where you cross yourself before you enter the pew to sit down. I didn't want to offend the ladies, I knew the rules. I bowed my head and pretended to pray, but I was really looking around for a friendly face. I knew I needed some social time, but I wasn't going to get it that day.
I tried to let the spirit of the Lord enter into me, but he was busy elsewhere, concentrating on the old people, I think. They were dressed for him, and had props, after all. I just sat still and tried to think of all the Italian words I knew, in case God expected Italian prayers in that church. I tried not to think about how lonely I was.
I had a revelation: I'm an extrovert, traveling alone in foreign countries and I don't speak any foreign languages. The whole solo trip was kind of a dumb idea. I vowed that from that day forward, my big adventures would involve other people. Independence was fine, but overrated.
I bit my lip so I wouldn't cry. I was kind of afraid of those ladies. They might tsk tsk me. if I cried. I knew if I started, I wouldn't stop.
Suddenly, the rain stopped and the afternoon sun streamed through a high window and hit gold. There was gold stuff everywhere in that church, I swear.
The whole room got shimmery as the light moved around, bouncing off the golden wood trim, the gold in the stained glass windows, the gold cups on the alter, the gold incense burner...if I'd had a gold coin to pay an indulgence, the light would have found it too, I'm sure of it. Why had I spent my last coins on calling my mom?
I stopped trying to feel God and started appreciating the gold. I think I grew up a little in that moment. I realized that life wasn't just a series of skits I was writing, directing and staring in. I wasn't really the center of the universe after all, and it didn't really matter if there was a real God to hear my pretend prayers.
I realized that nothing I could do or make would ever be quite as brilliant as that color in that church that day. It took many people hundreds of years to build that impressive church and paint everything gold, over and over, century after century, so that when the light hit the window every afternoon and spread itself around the room, the color alone would make an impression on the future people who walked in, out of the rain.
That day, I knew I'd remember that gold color, just as I'd remembered the pink of my childhood. The gold was just as calm, and peaceful as the pink.
Good lord, now I want a nap.