Brush Strokes on a New Canvas

Second chances.  We hope for them when we apply for a new position after being fired or for a marriage license after being divorced.  Often we’ve made irreparable past mistakes that could only be redeemed if afforded the grace to try again.  I fail daily, in big and little ways; Lord knows my Italian temper is being tested in its two-thousandth chance.  This weekend, I failed in an attempt to paint a canvas.

Charming scored us a Groupon to Monet Gogh Sip where we’d use a canvas, an array of oil paints, a few brushes, and a lesson to recreate our own Waterfall paintings.  A Sunday afternoon nap preceded a walk to the studio, Yellow Tail Moscato in tow.  Neither of us are visual artists, so we figured we’d just have fun with it, maybe flick a little blue paint at each other.

We noticed that other participants had brought snacks and lamented the tortilla chips and cheese dip back in Charming’s kitchen.  With wine on one side of the canvas and paint brushes on the other, the instructor had us begin by painting the water.  I tried to imitate the placement of this deep blue eye-shaped portion.  It wasn’t until we’d finished the next step of applying red, orange, and yellow paint in sequence to create the autumn-laden ground that I realized I should have placed the water higher.

The problem with simply having fun is that we are two Type A personalities, perfectionists in our own right, competitive to the core.  The desire to get it right is inherent.  I glanced at Charming’s painting.  He had mastered the two-colored-paint-tip approach to the waterfall’s reflection in the water.  I simply had trouble imagining a waterfall that we hadn’t made yet.  If there was no waterfall, how do these streaks of white and blue create its reflection?

Charming had followed the instructions to make small paint dots and smear them into leaves, but when he stepped back to look at his labor, he assessed that he should have made them smaller. Fixing that at this point, however, would have required starting over at the second step.  He opted to cut his losses and accept a little imperfection in his first attempt.

Our instructor had told us not to worry about defining the branches in the sky as they would be covered over in a later step.  Part of the difficulty of painting in this lesson was that later steps revealed the errors made in previous steps though we had followed instructions carefully.  After completing the process, we both found ourselves adding paint to try and cover the branches that were still visible despite all efforts to make them disappear behind layers of oil paint.

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When you look at our paintings from far away, they appear the same (and could probably pass for the original to an amateur eye).  Take a closer look, and you’ll see the low placement of the water in mine, the over-sized leaves in Charming’s, and the undefined branches begging to be hidden.  From far away, there was no failure.  But each failed brush stroke I see is a mistake begging for a second chance.

I’m not sure if we’ll return for another painting session, but I’m certain if we do we’ll bring some cheese for that wine.  If we painted Waterfall again, we would confidently fix our mistakes.  Granted, that doesn’t mean we won’t make new ones, and it doesn’t mean that because we know better, we’ll do better.  Each mistake taught us a technique or strategy for getting it right the next time.

When we’re going about our day-to-day routines, we cannot see the future painting that our lives will be.  We make choices in our colors of paint, our brush stroke thickness and placement, focusing on the step we’re completing without an awareness of the masterpiece we’re creating.  Unlike our paint and sip experience, we’re not given a view of the finished product beforehand.

Like a tapestry, we weave these seemingly unrelated threads into a pattern that will eventually resemble something.  And we want that to be something beautiful.  Certainly, when I married I expected our tapestry would be one of couple holding hands.  Our painting would be one of a family in a meadow.  Our tapestry, our painting – those were finalized in our separation agreement.  And they were anything but beautiful.

From I do to divorce, the sum of our individual choices and decisions made in tiny, seemingly insignificant moments amounted to darkness.  I wouldn’t have dreamed on my wedding day that our painting would be of a man and a woman walking away from one another.  If I was artistically inclined, I’d make them silhouettes.  And it would be raining.

Because every argument was a water droplet on the canvas of our relationship.  Every white lie was a black shadow on our shades of trust.  Every night spent on our own sides of a king-sized bed outlined us moving in opposite directions.  There was no instructor for my marriage, no picture of the expected final product to use as a guide.  I made mistakes.  Some were small, and I could compensate for them as with painting a smaller foreground.

Some mistakes were big, as obvious as Charming’s over-sized leaves; fixing them would require going back in time and starting over at step one or two.  This is life, and not a painting.  There is no time portal.  We have no choice but to cut our losses and move on.  My ex-husband and I did that enough times in our marriage that we wound up painting an image neither of us expected or wanted.

Perhaps if had commissioned a painting of what I wanted our lives to amount to, I would have seen which thicknesses we should have used, which choices we should have made to reflect that image.  But like the reflection of a waterfall that didn’t exist yet, I was simply guessing at color placement.

When you looked at my relationship with my husband from far away, we appeared successful.  We led worship together at church, attended a couple’s Bible study, and started weekday mornings with a routine kiss goodbye as he left for work.  I’m grateful no one can take a microscope to our marriage except us.  The abundance of mistakes when I look closely… it’s well, shameful.

I know if I tried to paint Waterfalls again, I would make it better.  But who wants two of the same painting?  If I get a second chance, I want to paint a different canvas entirely.  If afforded the grace to try again, irreparable past mistakes could be redeemed by using the techniques and strategies gleaned from failed attempts.

I’m not artistically inclined, but one of my young bloggers is gifted.  One of her paintings is on display in my classroom.  She’s a ginger and brave in all her creative outlets, my own Merida.  Tonight, I commissioned Merida to paint my future.  There’s a dark-haired couple cuddling on a front porch swing, a baby doll and a basketball in the foreground, and they’re looking at each other.

Maybe if I could imagine the waterfall, conjure the future product that my present actions are reflecting, then I’d know which colors to choose, which choices to make in my everyday life to reflect that image.  I can do more than imagine with Merida’s painting.

When we’re painting our lives, each decision is a stroke of mostly guesswork.  Even the most Type A among us can’t expect to paint a perfect canvas on our first attempt.  With each error, we develop a plan for getting it right the next time, even if the benefit will be applied to a new, better painting.  One like Merida’s new commission.

Charming and I did have fun at Monet Gogh Sip.  We tried.  We made mistakes.  We laughed.  We toasted.  From far away, our paintings look great.  From close up, I see potential for the next attempt.

Here’s to second chances.

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