Editor’s Note: Missioner Cindy Mizes reflects on the beauty of life as she led an art project for the patients at Consie Walters Cancer Care hospice in Kingston, Jamaica.
On one of my recent visits to Consie Walters Cancer Care hospice, I gathered the patients in a circle on the veranda to begin the day’s activity. We love gathering on the open-air veranda. On this particular day, we felt the coolness of the autumn breeze brushing across our faces and playfully weaving its way through and around the patient’s wheelchairs like a child teasing us to “come and play.”
Our “play time” began with a brief history on the life of Miss Emily Dickinson– a brilliant poet with fascinating insight into love, nature, life, and eternity. Miss Dickinson was stricken with a terminal illness that took her life at the age of 56. It was only after her untimely death that her poetry was found and later published. All the patients were fascinated by Dickinson’s life and inspired by her poetry, which has filled so many people with countless joy.
After sharing Miss Dickinson’s reflections on nature and autumn, our activity transitioned into an art lesson where my patients transformed into my art students. We first shared our thoughts and memories about the season of autumn. I then briefly left the circle to randomly gather several leaves from the hospice grounds. These leaves became our art subjects.
In succession, I held up each leaf and displayed its unique characteristics to the curious, attentive students. The first leaf displayed was vibrant green and was very pliable with distinctive and hardy yellow veins coursing through its smooth satin surface. “This leaf,” I explained, “is young with life still in it. I picked it off its branch.” I passed it around for everyone to touch and feel the leaf’s tender, yet flexible surface. It could be bent and shaped without cracking.
With detail I explained each leaf’s particular stage of life before it arrived in our art activity. Each leaf was passed around to allow the students to study and touch it. Then came the last leaf. As I held it up, I asked my students, “What can you tell me about this leaf?”
In her sweet, tender, and gentle voice, Miss W. said, “It’s old and has been weathered by all the elements.” How true! Brown, brittle and lifeless, yet unbroken, the elements had hastened its final stage. Soon the leaf would succumb back to the earth as life-giving mulch. As we studied it more closely we could see how the natural elements of wind, rain, and sun had also orchestrated a beautiful curved design which made the leaf appear as if was frozen in an eternal joyful finale.
I then proceeded to demonstrate how to paint the leaf by combining colors of red, brown, orange and white to create the shades they see. Each student watched intently as the ‘dancing leaf’ came to life on the paper. Then, I took an apple from my lunch and showed my students the simple technique of using brush strokes and shades of white to capture light and shadows on a subject. My hope was to have them see how light can bring out the apple’s natural beauty despite its normal appearance.
Every day I spend with my patients I am reminded that life is a gift. Each moment with these remarkable people bring me closer to understanding the connection between love and death. To hold one’s hand as they fall gently into death can be the greatest expression of love. One of the hardest things for me to do is to walk into a patient’s room and see an empty bed where once breathed a beautiful, loving soul. However, not even death can destroy the bond that exists.
We are all simply passing through this life and will eventually find ourselves alone and weathered by the elements of life– those unavoidable difficulties, struggles, experiences and places that precede our finale. I am privileged to join my patients in their final dance as they journey through the end of life. And I am comforted in knowing they will soon see the true portrait of Christ in all His glory and majesty- just as He is.
Only after our mortal bodies return to the earth will our souls be joined in Heaven where we will see Christ face-to-face and feel the radiant uncreated light as He reveals His true identity to us. And what a blessed ending that will be!
Reflection Question: Where do you notice the beauty of life? In nature? In your relationships?