Yesterday I was in Redwood Park, down in the middle-woods, painting.
Whenever I leave the park with my painting I always carry the canvas in such a way that it is hidden as much as possible. I'm not scared of what others may think of me, going into the park to paint, but for some reason I don't like the actual painting, the results of my labour, to show to anyone who may be passing by. Since I cannot cover the newly painted canvas without wrecking what I just painted, I have to carry it as it is.
Having come out of the hill's woods I headed through the main trails past the redwood grove. There were three people sitting on a log bench in front of the grove: two young women and a man who was rather rotund with a cane. The man was eyeing me as I approached, and eyeing me even as I looked at him, longer than people usually would when their stare is being returned. But then he looked away.
Coming close I saw he had Down's, and the two young women certainly had something - a milder form of Down's, or some form of autism, I don't know. I greeted them, saying hi, and passed in front of them, trying my best to hold the canvas with my left hand at my side so that it didn't show, as they were seated on my right. Suddenly I heard from one of the girls a voice that was totally un-premeditated, unafraid, unmannered and totally natural - almost a shout:
"Did you paint that?"
"Yes," I answered, as I kept walking, and she called after to come back and let's see it. I turned back, went up and showed it to her. A small square canvas.
It was a strange thing. Something like an electric bubble of awe settled instantly around her as she looked at it, carefully holding the stretched canvas by its sides, as she said, in the same spontaneous way, "Wow, that is so good." But all the 'o's in the exclamation were extended.
Now, I'm well aware of my limitations. I know I'll always be learning and that until the end of my life my own achievements will always have something beside which to dwindle in comparison - but that this fault-filled faltering is the unfathomed, bottomless deep from which all great work springs.
The reason I was moved was that there was something in her reaction that was so pure, such that to think about it I am somewhat ashamed to call myself a painter - that is, one who professes to look and observe. She had a special way of seeing that seemed to be at one with some "disability".
Nothing about style or anything like that. She simply took full delight in the painting, and it was deep delight. But again, she took deep delight not in order to satisfy the one who painted it, but according as something had been given to her for the moment and she was taking what beauty or permanence of it that she could: the eternal moment.
I lived with my friend in a basement suite for two years, and the Hungarian family who lived above us has a son with Down's; the youngest in their family of eight, and last to be living at home. What I am getting at is something you can only begin to see after being with them for some time. They're sitting off to the side of the trail, quite content in the surrounding quiet, and they have very keen sight. They rejoice in things - nothing can be too small - with a full-fledged plunge, and the water-graces from the plunge splash onto other people who are standing around.
What a lot of people do not see about them is that they are already deeply immersed.
She asked how long the painting took and I said this was my second sitting and it wasn't yet finished, and she abruptly wished me a good day and I said the same and went away. Something about the encounter nagged at me as I kept on through the trail:
Why do I not take the same delight in my painting?
In a few seconds that girl infused my canvas with its true potential, causing me in turn to see it.
C.S. Lewis came immediately to mind:
"'What fountain’s that?'
"'It is up there in the mountains,' said the Spirit. 'Very cold and clear, between two green hills. A little like Lethe. When you have drunk of it you forget forever all proprietorship in your own works. You enjoy them just as if they were someone else’s: without pride and without modesty.'"