This morning I was in physical therapy for my hip injury when the moment of silence began for the victims of 9-11. My therapy partner today (shoulder surgery) stopped and put his hand over his heart like one would for the Pledge of Allegiance. When the moment was concluded, he asked me where I was that day. Surprisingly, I was in physical therapy for a shoulder injury (2 falls). So here I was in almost the same place thinking about the events of September 11, 2001. Had I learned anything as an artist, as a person, in the past 12 years?
I rushed from my therapy appointment on 9-11 to a scheduled job. All I really wanted to do, like most people, was listen to the news. When I arrived at the job site, the homeowner immediately wanted to discuss with me the "plumpness" of the coral roses I was painting on a bathroom wall. "You realize that New York CIty in under attack right now?" She looked at me shocked. "Well, I still have to get this bathroom done right." And that is when I really thought about perspective.
I am not a great muralist. The best mural I ever did was in a class taught by Jeff Raum (who is a fantastic muralist) and it was because he taught me perspective. As most of you know, this is the art of drawing something on a two-dimensional surface to give the right impression of height, weight, and depth. It is the ability to perceive things in their actual interrelations or comparitive importance.
Someone made a poster of the famous photograph "Into the Jaws of Death" by Robert Sargent that shows the storming of Omaha Beach . Above the photo it says, "Your day has been neither this challenging nor this significant." And underneath it says, "Man up and get back to it."
On that morning, I thought the worst thing that would happen is my shoulder would not get better and I would not be able to work as a decorative painter again. Then Hell broke loose and the worst thing really happened to thousands of people. From that day on, 9/11 has been my height, weight, and depth. It is how I measure relative importance.
There are times I stress about getting a job done. Or worry about keeping my business competitive. I fret about the tape on my walls and the To Do List that never seems to get done. I've slipped and put petty injustices on my Facebook status. Just yesterday, I was starting to feel defeat-that my hip wasn't healing and it was hard just to get through a whole day at the studio.
And then I think, "What is really the worst that will happen?" I reflect on the image of 9/11 that is the most personal to me. The one that reminds me of the unimaginable choices people had to make that day. And above that it says, "Your day has been neither this challenging nor significant" and below it says, "Man up and get back to it." And I know it is true and that I am lucky.
The injured young man asked about my shoulder. I told him it took two years for the pain to diminish but it was the reason I decided to pursue teaching and start Surfaces. And I know that the pain I feel today may not ever go totally away and that I will always have my fears and worries. But we all have our trials and maybe all we can do to honor those that are no longer here is to be optimistic and try living our lives in a meaningful way. Once we keep that in perspective, it might be the most important lesson of all from 9/11.