I have a very ugly painting hanging in the main entrance to my house. Now, you have to understand that every other inch of my house is perfectly decorated and everything matches down to the color of the soap in the bathroom. I even commissioned pieces of art to match my house perfectly. But yet I love this other grotesque piece of art more than I love design aesthetics, and that is saying a lot. It is because of what I see when I look at that piece of art.
I am not a painter, and that is not me being humble. Writing, designing and photography are just 100 percent more my thing and I am okay with that. So you can imagine my horror when I was invited to a coworker’s birthday party at a wine and paint studio. We would get to down as much wine as we wanted while being taught how to paint a beautiful landscape of a tree losing its leaves in the fall. I got in a terrible fight with my boyfriend, who was also a coworker at the time, right before the event and looked for every possible excuse to not go. I NEVER wanted to paint, and I definitely did not want to get tipsy around my coworkers and have to talk about my (possibly ex) boyfriend. However, I had a glass of liquid courage before going to the event and talked myself into it.
I had a blast. I felt better than I ever felt since taking that new job. We all laughed, cried, confided in each other. We realized some of us were better at drawing the grass, some better at drawing the tree. Something felt very therapeutic about stepping out of a heartbreaking moment for a night and just letting go so I could paint a tree that was also losing something as it changed seasons. I even got complimented by the teacher on my moon. Mine was the best out of everyone’s. I beamed. At that moment in my life, having the best moon in the class was the best thing I ever could have achieved.
I immediately put the painting up in my studio apartment. It clashed with everything, and I mean EVERYTHING. I didn’t care. When my boyfriend came over to ‘discuss things’, he made endless fun of it. I didn’t care. I was so proud of that painting.
A couple of years later when it was time for me to pack up my studio apartment and move, I asked my boyfriend if he would keep it for me. He said no, but my mom interrupted and told me I better not get rid of it and she would take it.
Last fall, when I moved into my current house, my mom brought over the painting. She said that she never liked it, but just didn’t want me to get rid of it. I told her I had nowhere to put it. She said oh well.
That night, as I stared the painting, I realized what it meant to me, and saw more than questionable falling leaves. I saw a moment in time that I was able to escape such a painful experience, that I was able to escape the harsh criticism I usually give myself, and just get tipsy and paint. I see a chance I took going somewhere I didn’t want to go to at all, and how it ended up bonding me forever with amazing women. I see a strong woman who is able to laugh and create something even in the midst of a storm. And that, to me, is a damn masterpiece. And that is why I have an atrocious piece of art by yours truly hanging as the first thing I see when I go home, and the first thing guests see when they come over.
And now I am in the process of turning my guest room into a full-on art studio for acrylic art, jewelry making and sculpting. I have not become any more of a painter, if that’s what you are thinking. I have discovered, though, that while I am on chemo and spending copious amounts of time at home, I want to do create something new. I want to explore new ways to create art, outside of my writing, design and photography. I want to give myself permission again to make mistakes and to do something I’m not amazing at. It’s therapy for me.
The other side of this story is that I obviously see something in my original painting that absolutely no one, and I mean NO ONE, sees in it. It is a masterpiece to me. It tells a story of a moment in my life that inspires me to get through this very moment right now. So I am going to stand buy it and keep it as the primary painting in my home.
I think our relationships with other people are a bit like this, aren’t they? Our friend starts dating someone and we can’t see what she sees in them AT ALL. Our parents didn’t want us hanging around that one kid in middle school but we thought he was amazing. A parent who has given up on a child leaves them off at youth group and the youth group leader sees an incredible light within that child. We do not all see the same things in the same people.
It’s so important that we do not make quick judgments about others, and that we try to understand why they are ‘painted’ the way they are. What story is behind what they are showing you at face-value?
One of my favorite quotes in the entire world is that we should always, ALWAYS try to find the gold in someone else. There are enough people looking for the dirt. Think of what better communities we would have, what better relationships we would have, if we looked for the gold in other people instead of always pointing out what’s wrong.
I just utterly failed at this in my own life with an important relationship. I go so caught up in my chemo treatments and everything else swirling around me, that I tried less to see the gold him him and saw more of the dirt. If he reads this, I hope he knows how sorry I am, and that I vow to find the gold from this point forward. We all have our moments that we slip up, and we all deserve to forgive and be forgiven.
I have also succeeded in this, though. I managed a youth group where I lived before and quickly judged some of the students before knowing that much about them. I immediately caught myself, and knew that I had to spend more time understanding what was behind their behaviors. Pretty soon, they felt comfortable being open and honest with me about their lives at home and at school. Their eyes lit up when they started talking about their hidden talents, and I discovered the gold in them. From that point forward, I customized each lesson for each student depending on their skillset. If they drew well, they could draw the lesson. If they wrote well, they could write. It is completely astounding how empowering it is for others when you choose to focus on the gold.
So, as I finish writing this to retreat to my art studio and paint shitty paintings, I hope you give all of this a thought and spend some extra time this week looking for the gold in others. It’s there. I promise.
– Marji J. Sherman