More often than not, it isn’t obvious. More often than not, we have to dig under all the distracting garbage to find it. More often than not, we forget it’s even there until we trip over it accidentally.
Treasure is there. It’s just that sometimes there is an art to finding it.
My sister messaged me last week. She wrote “Hey you…are you alive? Breathing? Doing something today that brings you JOY?”. She was just touching base and trying to make plans for the holiday, but her message started me thinking about her. She is an artist by nature — adept at any medium — clay, wood, paint, leather, crayon, glass, feather — living a life that seems to be a creative expression of her own will upon it. But the true art of her life may be her ability to find treasures that other people overlook. She finds them in form and design, garbage and nature, places and people. This ability is as beautiful and creative as anything I’ve ever seen.
My sister hasn’t had an easy life, but I believe she has had what deserves to be a joyful one — not in what she has been given, but in what she has found. She is a treasure hunter — forever keeping an eye out for the next good find — the next gem. She has furnished her homes beautifully and creatively with either used things or things she has made. Her artwork is often an item of the mundane turned into something to celebrate. You will rarely, if at all, see her with anything brand new, but she is constantly surrounded by new items in her world decorated by nothing new.
She was born a free spirit. Growing up in the 60s and early 70s, she’s been dancing to her own drummer the whole time. It didn’t surprise me when she came out as gay back in the 80s — long before it was fashionable to do so. I remember thinking at the time that it made sense, that being “straight” just didn’t seem to fit my definition of her. To me, she was a person of fluid and rounded corners — a meandering river free of the rocks of expectation and the snags of tradition.
After she graduated from high school, she spent years holding court on the gulf coast of Texas, working hard and maintaining her beach house that was a hub for free-thinkers, musicians, artists, and those “fringe” people who often had to choose the terror of being honest with themselves over the pain of families who couldn’t accept them as they were. Yes, my sister’s house was a haven for the broken, the broke, the creative, the tolerant, and sometimes just folks who craved the support of other “weird” people. I, myself, lived down there for six months in 1984 after I split with my first serious college girlfriend. I needed an escape route from the pain of love and her A-frame on stilts near the splashing waves sounded like the ticket. I found solace there amidst what some people might call “human wreckage”, but what I found to be an exciting swarm of vibrant souls who withheld judgement until they understood a person’s character; didn’t let the pain of their injuries keep them from laughing; and loved life freely regardless, with passion and without apology. Even thirty years later, I look back on it as a time of magic. I did not come back unaffected.
Eventually, knowing that our mother was not getting any younger, my sister moved back north to Michigan so she could be close by if needed. She built a house in the woods and again made it available to those she thought might need it. She added a ramp to accommodate wheelchairs and made sure there were plenty of craft and art supplies to offer any at-risk children she helps supervise or family members looking for something creative to do.
But the woods are different from the ocean.
Though she’ll only admit being twenty-nine, her hips and knees scream otherwise and the last time I saw her she was using a cane and “wobbling around like a penguin”, according to her own words. And even though the artist and treasure hunter still shines through her eyes, I can tell it’s getting harder for her to see those works of art and hidden gems in a world where she used to find them so effortlessly. Yes, life is slowing her down.
But if she reads this, and I know she will, I hope it helps her walk a little lighter and feel a little younger to know that her life has been and will continue to be a work of art to me. That even though her aging pain makes the world seem bland these days, the simple virtue of her presence still adds color to it. That even during these long winters, she will forever be a warm spot for those stuck out in the cold. And that even when I think my own art is crap, her enthusiasm and support for it is the only proof I need to know that there is treasure there…somewhere.