We often speak of “coming full circle,” and generally, when we do, it indicates returning to the place we started. It usually feels good, like something has been accomplished. Rather than experiencing a straight slide backwards, it feels as though we have gone around and learned a few things along the way.
Today, I found myself back at the Montgomery branch of the Oswego Library, to peek in on an old piece of art that I was commissioned to create for a quiet little reading room back in 2010. It’s a lovely space in a beautiful library, sitting on a pristine slice of prairie at the edge of the Chicago suburbs. Seven years ago, the library trustees asked me to create a piece in commemoration of Eloise Sullivan, a nature lover who had served as a trustee until she passed away a year earlier.
So, it was in June 2010, the Monday after my oldest daughter, Olivia, graduated from high school, that I was rushing around the house gathering paint and supplies for a weeklong painting job––a prairie mural that reminded me of my downstate roots. Graduation decorations still cluttered the house from Sunday’s party, and my parents were lingering before their long drive back to the farm. We were planning a July Fourth cookout and fireworks show, along with a Wyoming vacation. It was to be a busy summer filled with family and friends, and with one headed off to college and another starting high school, I felt like my world was racing by me. I wanted to catch my breath and hold on a little longer. But there was no time. I felt my usual mixture of excitement and anxiety at the start of a new project. I was also excited because Olivia would be painting with me. I fixed my dad breakfast (Trader Joe’s Sweet Apple Chicken Sausage) and said my goodbyes before packing up for Montgomery. I remember he was barefoot on the deck when I hugged him. It was the last time I would see my wonderful father.
Olivia and I finished our mural on Thursday of that week, and on Friday morning my dad passed away. He left this world better than he found it, on a beautiful June day on the farm that he loved. The empty space and ache that remained are hard to describe, even now, seven years later. The days and weeks after he died were hot and stormy. And heavy. I remember those days of standing on the edge of the field at his farm, stunned.
Now it’s 2017, and like then, I feel the world rushing by me. Seven years of painting, of story telling and living life have passed. My daughters are grown and busy with their own dreams, but once again there are big plans for the summer. It’s my turn to move on from the classroom at Wheaton Academy and tackle new challenges. We have plans to travel and plans to gather with family and friends. There are more paintings and projects on the horizon…gardens to be planted…dogs to be walked…But this time, I’m in no hurry.
Until today, I hadn't returned to see the mural that we painted at the library. I hadn't followed up with the librarians, or the trustees, or Ms. Sullivan’s family. The fog that surrounded me after my dad’s death swallowed up everything about that beautiful prairie mural. And it was mostly forgotten, except for the watercolor sketch that was tucked away in the studio. I looked at that sketch this morning and decided to return.
This afternoon I snapped a few photos of “Prairie Sketchbook” with my original watercolor sketch in hand. My heart was pounding with joy. Joy because the piece was still there, and joy because it was more beautiful than I remembered. But most of all, joy because I realized I have come full circle.
The librarian told me that they really love that mural. So do I. And I’m pretty sure that my dad would too.