Stop to Really Listen

{Repost from April, 2010}

Twice weekly, I attend oil painting classes at a lovely little studio in my neighborhood.  I usually go in and set up my little spot and keep to myself.  It is like a retreat for me and I get into my "zone" and disappear into my painting.  Most of the clientele in the studio are retired men and women and I've noticed that they have a strong bond and it seems to be more of a social event for them rather than a technical lesson on oil painting.  Throughout the class time there are many conversations going on around me and these other students usually walk around and admire everyone's work and stop to chat.  I keep my head low and smile when it is appropriate, but I try not to engage anyone else.  I really joined so that I could learn to paint properly and sometimes I find myself annoyed at the interruptions.  After all, this is an indulgent treat in my ordinarily hectic life and I am very protective of these precious hours. When one of the group would stop and look over my shoulder, I appeared so deeply involved and would nod at their compliment, but tried hard not to engage in any way.

But my selfishness kept nagging at me.  I'm not a rude person (or at least I didn't think I was.)

Today, I realized that I was missing the point.  Sure, I was learning to paint but I definitely wasn't learning much about relating to others.  What a snob I must have seemed to the people around me.  On this day, I forced myself to look up from my work and take stock of those around me.  I have never bothered to get up and compliment anyone else's work.  In fact, I've never done more than just smile politely and look away.  Disgraceful.  I got up and walked around the room today and admired the beautiful artwork around me, but I especially noticed the lovely people for the first time.  I stopped to chat with an elderly woman who comes in every week carrying an oxygen tank with her.  She was painting a portrait of her granddaughter and I mentioned what a beautiful girl she was.  The woman's face lit up and I could see the pride and love she had for her granddaughter and she began to tell me all about her.  I became genuinely interested in everything she had to say as she described her family and how excited she was to be able to travel to her granddaughter's high school graduation and she hoped to finish the portrait in time to present it to her as a gift.  I was reminded of my own grandmother who passed away just a few months ago and how she just loved to visit and to talk.  We chatted for at least 15 minutes and unconsciously, I had performed my ARK (act of random kindness).  In those brief minutes, I had stopped to truly listen to this woman and I could tell she was overjoyed to share.  More importantly, I made a new friend today and learned a valuable lesson.  What good are my art lessons if I can't take a moment to enjoy my surroundings and the people I come into contact with.  Art is all around me, not just on the canvas, but on the faces of those whose paths I cross every day!  At once, I was embraced with the friendship of everyone in that room and not only did they see me through different eyes--I saw all of them for the first time.

***  Just a few short months after I wrote this blog post, I learned that this dear woman passed away.  I never learned if she was able to make the journey to visit her granddaughter and to gift her the portrait.  I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to be a friend to her.

 "I want you to be concerned about your next door neighbor. Do you know your next door neighbor?"  ~ Mother Teresa