The soft purple light transitions between nighttime and morning as brilliant pinks illuminate the sky. Moments later, monumental rock faces are washed in glowing orange light. These rock formations are the very ones seen in great Westerns, old Marlboro commercials, and Georgia O’Keeffe paintings. My room sits atop a hill high above Ghost Ranch and overlooking a distant purple plateau, the very one Georgia spent a lifetime painting. This feels like sacred land, or at least an homage to the artist and film directors who made these lands famous.
Soon, like each morning for the past week, I’ll meet everyone for breakfast, and then make announcements one last time on our departure day. Tears will flow as people who did not know each other a week ago hug those who have become their new friends and they remember the laughter, the deep talks, the first plein air paintings for some, and the special memories of the week. Though we’re here at an event I call Fall Color Week, a week of painting, the friendships made outweigh the endless painting locations where one could spend a lifetime. I too am sad to say farewell but happy to be home with my family tonight.
During this week I spent time with two different people who were dealing with some major problems and yet had incredible attitudes. One, recently diagnosed with a catastrophic, life-threatening disease, chose to come to the event anyway, though she isn’t feeling well and is going through some difficult treatments.
The other had her career cut short by an accident that left her in intense pain with no hope of relief, probably for the rest of her life.
The Effort for Joy
What struck me about both these people is that they were not wearing it on their sleeves, not talking about it, not seeking sympathy. In fact, I found that of all the people attending my event, these two had the most upbeat and outgoing personalities. Both were filled with joy, both were fun to be around, and they didn’t complain, whine, or fail to participate in spite of the pain they were in. They went out of their way to make things fun, to laugh, and to bring joy to those around them.
“There is no need to be miserable and make it difficult for others to be around me,” said the one. “I’m miserable enough, I don’t want to bring any misery to others and certainly don’t want to be miserable to be around or live with. I’m alive, and that’s a lot to be thankful for.”
I have to admit, I’ve seen few people embrace life with such joy as these two.
Honestly, if I’m experiencing a temporary physical ailment like a herniated disc or a pinched nerve, I’m grumpy and not fun to be around. I cannot imagine knowing that pain would be long-term.
Never Giving In
In one case this person said she intended to beat her disease even though she has been told there is little chance of that happening. In the other case, she has tried dozens of different treatments, drugs, and therapies and has been told there are no more options, yet she is convinced she will beat it by continuing to search.
“I don’t know if I’ll make it through or not, but I believe I will, and I certainly don’t want to live the remaining months or years of my life being a sourpuss.”
Both of these women inspire me and have taught me important lessons.
They embrace life as it is, not as it should be, or once was. And their conditions have made them want to make the most out of each day. A good day for each is a little less pain than other days.
Secondly, they are not playing the victim. They acknowledge their condition, but are not using it to gain attention or sympathy. They don’t like to talk about it, avoid bringing it up, and want to be accepted for who they are.
Third, they acknowledge their condition — but don’t accept it. Meaning they will never give in and consider their condition a life sentence. Instead they will keep seeking alternatives, never giving up.
Skipping Through Life
Fourth, they are living life with joy, happiness, and a spirit of fun. I caught one of them skipping, the other singing, and saw both laughing a lot. They want to live full and happy lives and go out of their way to make sure each day is as happy as possible in spite of their pain.
Healing with Attitude
In Cyber Cybernetics, a book by Maxwell Maltz I read decades ago, the author presented evidence that attitude, laughter, and being happy had a positive impact on health and survival. More sophisticated recent research confirms what Maltz discovered among prisoners in concentration camps — attitude is a major factor in healing.
What causes you to have a bad day?
What makes you grumpy and difficult to be around?
How does what you’re facing compare to a death sentence or a lifetime of chronic pain?
Is it possible that the things we hang on to as victims, the things we get bothered or stressed by, pale in comparison to what these two women are facing?
Learning Life Through Death
I recently lost an old friend to cancer. I watched him die on Facebook over the last two years. But he died with dignity and a great attitude, up to the very last day. Though he reported his progress, he was upbeat, encouraging to others, and a joy to be around. He taught me a lot about living as I saw the way he died.
People like this are bigger than most. Instead of being “Why me?” focused, they are not me-focused at all, but focused on bringing joy to others, and that brings them joy.
What if we all lived that way?
What if we all shed our grumpy days, our misery, and our complaints, and realized that most of what bothers us isn’t a bother at all?
What if you did not allow yourself to have bad days … almost ever?
Who I Want to Be
I want to be the guy who greets me with a giant smile and open arms.
I want to be the lady who loves to laugh.
I want to be the person who gets joy from helping others realize greatness.
I want to be the person who never complains.
I want to be the person who makes others feel good about themselves when they’re around me.
I want to be the person who keeps his pain and angst to himself.
I want to be the woman who is exuberant.
I want to be the person who loves life, who embraces every minute, even the bad, and makes the best of them.
Who I Don’t Want to Be
I don’t want to be the person who complains, who whines, who is filled with anxiety and fear. I don’t want to be the person who isn’t fun to be around, who takes life too seriously, who finds fault in others and is judgmental.
Who do you want to be?
The great thing about life … you get to choose who you are. You can drop who you have been and reinvent yourself at any time in your life. You can’t shed your past, but you can choose not to allow it to impact your future anymore.
You can be the life of the party. You can be exuberant if that’s who you want to be.
Circumstances do not define your life. You define how you interpret your life.
Choose wisely. Each day is a gift, and no day should be approached without pure joy.
PS: I don’t mean to make light of you or your circumstances. I’ve not walked in your shoes. I don’t know what you’re going through or what you’ve been through. But please know, I deeply want the best for you.
PS 2: I feel like I’m living a dream because I get to meet so many wonderful people in a lot of different circumstances. One lady this week said to me, “Coming to this makes me realize I need to be around more people. This is a joy because my family and friends can’t relate to my art, but everyone here is someone who shares the same passion I have.” Find your tribe, no matter what you’re into, and get involved. It will do your heart good. My next event like this is the 10-year anniversary of my Adirondack Publisher’s Invitational in June. If this is the tribe you want to be a part of, I’ll see you there.
PS 3: This week I had 98 artists in attendance. We had so much fun, and remarkably, there were many beginners, and some who did the first plein air paintings of their lives. I did a lot of high-fives because I was so proud of them and wanted to encourage them. I’d like to high-five you for learning to paint portraits or figures at my Figurative Art Convention & Expo, which is coming up November 10-13 in Williamsburg, Virginia. It’s open to every level, including beginners, and it exposes you to the best of the best. If you’re going to learn, learn from the best. Remember, average people try to solve their own problems, above-average people try to learn from the mistakes of others, and exceptional people seek out exceptional teachers who are the best of the best to teach them. We’ve got a wonderful pre-convention workshop to teach you to draw, and another to teach you to paint people from photos. Then four days of exceptional training. If you’re an artist of any kind, keep this in mind. In the studio, you have questions you don’t even know to ask, but the masters teaching at FACE have answered most of them already. You can return to your studio with answers to questions you haven’t even formulated yet. One kernel of true understanding is priceless — imagine the nuggets the masters at FACE have to share. By attending you can make every day in your studio more stimulating and productive … What could you possibly learn from four days with the masters at FACE? When it’s over you’ll wonder how you could ever have asked such a question.