Architects are the co-conspirators of the art world, for without them, every priceless, beautiful canvas would be forever grounded.
My dad was a great artist.
Each wall of our family home was a showroom of his life’s work. He taught us that to appreciate art, you must have equally high regard for the wall of its final resting place. Together, the form and function of the architecture on which it hangs either enhances or diminishes the beauty of each placement.
Maybe that’s where it all started for me, I’m not quite sure. But in addition to being an art-lover, I’ve always been a fan of extraordinary architecture and each of its artists.
Because architecture can’t just stop at being beautiful, it also needs to work, make sense, be functional, justifiable and explainable. It is art’s framework.
While the painter can imagine anything and create it on a canvas to be admired, the architect can’t stop there. Its critics wouldn’t allow it.
I am one of those critics.
If I take anything to the grave at all, it’s liable to be a very long list of questions to present to a master Architect who will have a lot of explaining to do.
There was a time when my finite mind attempted answers to all the infinite questions about certain phenomena, countless whys and why nots and general subjects about evil, tragedy and the reason bad things happen to good people. I’m sure I’ve drawn some wrong conclusions and missed some big picture explanations along the way but with the audience of the Master, I expect some answers about its form and function.
I don’t remember if it was a dream or just one of the random thinkings for which I’m famous, but a scenario unfolded before me that was at the very least, comforting and at the very best, became a cornerstone to my faith.
Here’s how it went…
I knocked on the door and was granted entry. That in itself was important, because it meant I’d met all the Architectural requirements. Boldly, I thanked Him and we were cordial, but I was the first to speak. “I have some questions of You, mister.” “I imagine you do,” He said, “but let’s follow the protocol and I promise you answers.” With patience as a virtue and satisfied with the negotiations so far, He asked me to follow the clouds to the left and at the junction, hang a right into the door marked “Blueprints.” I obliged and followed the path, promising to return with my list.
Upon entering, the room was one massive table with rolls of giant blueprints awash as far as the eye could see. “Pull the plans on Miller, Donald S., please,” I heard on the overhead, and a rather large set of the plans was unfurled before me.
Now these blueprints weren’t of architectural structures per se, but of connections and events of my so many years from single conversations long ago with strangers, random smiles and frowns I’d made over the years, all the way to complex situations I’d miraculously survived. Pretty much everything was there, and more than my memory could handle at the time. There were blue lines between the events connecting one to another, to another and to another. Tragic events, beautiful events, and my responses to each. It was, indeed, beautiful. An architectural masterpiece in blue, and every corner, joist and beam was precisely connected.
As I followed the lines of my actions and their effects, the conclusions were logical, functional and made so much sense, my list of questions erased themselves one by one.
I was there for maybe hours, maybe days if time was even a concept anymore. I was humbled and I cried as I saw the effects of my words and behaviors upon others and theirs upon me for all my existence. My entire list was explained away.
Emerging from the room, I made a left down the hall.
“Any questions?” He asked.
The collected curiosities of all my years had vanished. What had made no sense at all had been meticulously penned from the beginning of time in blue with all precise measurements and angles and structurally, was not only beautiful, but sensibly so. All my whimsical explanations had been dismissed as quickly as a fleeting deja vu.
I just hung there, awestruck, finally resting in peace.
And He stood there for an eternity, admiring the beautiful masterpiece on the wall before him.
And for the life of me, all I could admire was the Architect.
The box said 1,000 pieces, but never promised they’d fit together.
It’s now clear I’m not creating the picture on the cover.
In my much younger mind, it should have resembled that perfect cover photo where all the pieces fit so nicely together. But then, my life has been anything but.
The model father, the successful businessman, the picture of fitness, the pillar of the community, I was caught up with illusions of supposed-to-be’s I now render might-have-beens. I threw my hands up and walked away from it many times in frustration over the years–more times than I care to admit, but always returned to the table a little smarter, a little wiser and a little less convinced I was the only working on it.
I always came back to the table.
At some point, I stopped gazing at that idyllic picture placed before me when I first began this journey called life. Having forced every supposed-to-be and worked each want-to-be piece ragged, it was only when I discarded the box top as my guide for one better that the picture unfolded before me.
I’m now about 750 pieces in and it’s finally all coming together. Granted, it’s nothing as I’d imagined, but with some courage, I’ve taken the random pile, turned over all the reluctant pieces, and I’m fitting together something out-of-the-box beautiful that looks more like a miracle than a table full of pastimes.
And when the last piece is placed with my dying breath, I’m certain it will hang as a masterpiece in God’s heavenly gallery, because He bought this puzzle, He completed it, and He called it beautiful from the very start like a good Father should.
The 2am text hit my phone like a tow truck without a conscience.
It had been many sober years since his name had popped up on my phone alongside the memories of that dark night when I almost lost my best friend.
“Can you call me?”
Some replies can wait until morning. I could tell this wasn’t one of them.
Two years into my sobriety three years back, this man saved two lives, one of which was mine.
Enough clean time under my belt to have known better that night, I let my puppy, Butch, run into the street, only to get plowed by a tow truck, left spinning on the asphalt in pain from a broken leg. Not having the $1,500 to get him medical attention, an angel named Peter stepped in with a credit card at the last moment to foot a bill I have never repaid.
He’d insisted it was a gift from a fellow dog lover and we both were in a fury over the tow truck driver who’d fled the scene. My dog recovered, but apparently, Peter has not.
I phoned him.
He’d taken medical leave from work last winter and through a series of insurance foibles, he has been forced to use the last of his savings over the past six months to keep himself alive. Now on public assistance and fighting insurance companies and for his life, he needed someone, and stat.
For those who follow me, it’s widely known that my dog and I are an inseparable team. Now nearly four years old, he’s a Facebook celebrity and brings more joy to me than a life of drugs ever promised without delivering. The only reason he’s still here is because of an angel named Peter who now needs a tow truck.
We talked of the dominoes of his life which had fallen in rapid succession, bringing him to reluctantly call on those who he thought might be able to help in his own time of need. And as these stories often go, apparently, I’m the only one who has returned his call.
I don’t make much in the non-profit world. I suppose that’s why it’s called non-profit. But I pay my rent and utilities and eat and love my dog and never forget visits from angels.
“I have never forgotten what you did for me and Butch, Peter, and despite how long it’s been, I also won’t be one of those people who don’t answer your call.”
Out of shame for asking, he cried on the phone and explained he wasn’t looking to be repaid. He’d forgiven the debt long ago and gently refused my offer three years back when we last talked. He said he called me because I’d always seemed different from everyone else, even during the days I was awash in drugs and lost in addiction.
We’re meeting this week and I will be giving him weekly assistance from my checking account to help him get back on his feet. And in my line of work, I can now offer him so much more than money to fish him out of the mess and stop the domino effect that has brought this angel down.
I came home and held my best friend on my lap and looked down at the scar on his hind leg from that once dark night. He glanced up at me, turned, and licked the scar as if to remind me that sometimes a tow truck needs a tow truck.
There will always be evil, tragedy and circumstances of great loss in this world. Some cope with these harsh realities through drugs, denial, or other means of ignorant escape. Others shield themselves within walls of money, influence or possessions believing they can keep tragedy blinded and at safe distance for at least awhile or the remainder of their years.
But the courageous are the realists who take up world causes in their own backyards, armed with purpose, determination and compassion at costs well above their means. They are the relentless heroes who know that love is the grave’s only redeemable possession and life’s only redeemable pursuit.
In the end, some people will need headstones to define what their short lives represented.
Aspire to be among the few who never will.