The day after the election I went to paint with my friends in the southern suburbs. I felt awful, like I had been beat up with a baseball bat- but I thought it would be better to be around people than hole up in some cave.
My friend Corrie has founded a painting group. We are nine women of different ages, background and faiths, but what we all have in common is we are artists. We meet each Wednesday and paint together. And yes- we are even diverse in our approach to art. Some are realistic still life oil painters,a few do pastel, watercolor, collage, and abstract acrylic. I really love these women. Corrie has created a supportive atmosphere where one is free to make art. Even though I know that Corrie and her whole family are ardent Republicans and Trump voters, I know that Corrie is my friend and I love her dearly.
The day after the election, we weren’t talking much politics. It was still too raw for most of us. Corrie turned our attention to a potential venue for a show. She really wants all of us to put on a show together.
Corrie started talking about this beautiful church she had found in La Grange and how the programs director was enthusiastic about our group exhibiting there. I didn’t say anything, but a warning flag came up in my mind. This was a church. I listened closely. Corrie said that our work would be exhibited in the central sanctuary (where they pray) for everyone to see. She said the venue was beautiful: the church was built of gray stone with imported dark wood carvings from Italy. They exhibit shows regularly, so the lighting is really good. A lot of people would be seeing our work, and that’s what artists want, right? As many people as possible looking at their work.
I felt my stomach go into knots. She was so enthusiastic and hopeful- who was I to rain on her parade? Is quashing my friend’s hope sufficient reason for me to smother my truth? I decided that I had better get used to speaking up and suffering the consequences because I might be having to do a lot of that over the next four years. In my head I repeated to myself, “Never ask a question where you are afraid to hear the answer.” I would be testing my friends.
I said, “This sounds like a beautiful venue, but to be perfectly honest, I don’t feel comfortable exhibiting my work there.”
Corrie looked at me in shocked disbelief.
“It’s just that I’m Muslim. And the people you spoke with at the church, they are assuming that all of us are Christian. There are some people in that church who may not be comfortable having Muslim paintings in their sanctuary. This sounds like a great opportunity for all of you to exhibit, so you go for it. Don’t let me stop you. I’ll do another show with you.”
Corrie said, “Well, I don’t think they would object.”
I replied, “I don’t think you understand the political climate right now.” She stared at me in disbelief. “I think you at least have to tell the people in charge the situation. They’ll know their parish better than you, they’ll know how people will feel about it.”
Corrie looked thoughtful. Then she said, “We’re not doing this show without you. We are going to show together, all of us. That is what this group is about. And if this church doesn’t want your work there because you are Muslim, then I don’t want my work there either. It is against my Christian principles to have this kind of discrimination.”
I thanked her. Tears welled up in my eyes. Although I had initially been afraid to speak up, after I found the courage to do so, I was rewarded with a demonstration of my friend’s love and solidarity.
Sometimes it is ok to rain on someone’s parade. Those puddles can give off beautiful reflections.
As a postscript, I’m sharing the paintings I made that day in Corrie’s workshop. Not my best effort, but considering the emotional circumstances, I’m ok with them.
I recently read of one meditation technique whereby you keep focused one image for a full minute, trying very hard to not think of anything else, blocking out all other competing thoughts. Looks like I am going to be doing a lot of still lives in the days to come….