Lesson learned

A friend is gone. He is a fairly well-known artist in my city and his loss has been felt across many circles. I knew of him for almost a decade before I ever knew him. When I was in high school and early college, he spent a lot of time at my favorite coffee shop sketching and drawing and talking with people. He’d actually created the murals covering the walls of the place and in many ways he is to thank for the warm personality of One World. His was among the first art I ever really noticed. When I was younger I thought the art world was made up of what I saw in textbooks and the sketches filling my friends’ pads. Vin’s art, along with my friend Nicola’s and a girl named Jessica’s, opened me up to depth and meaning and power in art. I learned that ideas are communicated in painting and sculpture that words can never do justice. I remember a painting of a blue form folded over itself, kneeling with the head buried in the hands. Below her the blue paint streamed down to the bottom of the canvas in rivulets. Above her floated the half apple, the artist’s signature symbol for inner beauty. The first time I saw this painting my breath caught in my chest and my heart ached. I responded at an emotional, even spiritual level, to something I couldn’t put into words. I still feel that way when I see this painting, almost fifteen years later.

Eventually Vin met my best friend from high school and beyond. He saw her playing music at a cafe where he was sketching. Each was pursuing the language they’d been given for finding and describing beauty, and in that pursuit they found one another. I was star-struck the first time she brought him to my apartment, even more so when he translated the garage sale scroll of Chinese characters on my wall. Over time I became more comfortable with him, and was honored to stand beside her at their wedding.

Seven years have passed since that day, and now he is gone. I am struck by many things, overwhelmed by the emotion of it all. Their marriage has set a ridiculously high bar for what I want in my own life someday. They loved each other very well. His funeral was punctuated with the testimonies of people who had felt loved by Vin. He created beauty in his painting, this is true. But he also saw beauty in the people and things around him, beauty most people are blind to. And he revealed beauty, uncovering it to the surprise of those in whom it was housed. His freedom in himself left him free to give to others, to be fully present with them, to speak in matter-of-fact tones to the beauty and freedom of others. I was honored to have some of these conversations with Vin. He thought I had bad taste in men. He didn’t understand self-doubt and thought I worried too much. I believed the good things he said about me, because he had no reason to lie.

What I am most aware of in these days following his passing, though, is the very deep regret I feel at not having known him better. I was always uncomfortable because of the years of fan-dom between us. I never wanted to “fan girl” at him, or take advantage of his status as best-friend-in-law. So I kept what I believed was a respectful distance. I tried not to impose too much, or be around too often.

Looking back, I realize something I wish to God I’d realized sooner. He wouldn’t have cared. If I’d been a little awkward, or blushed a bit, or oozed fan-ness at him, I don’t think he would have flinched. When we did speak, he was so present and so focused and so aware of truth that I think he would have cut through all of that. I think we could have been connected by more than having a friend/wife in common. I think we could have been friends. And I will always grieve the loss of that opportunity, because it seems that he would have been a uniquely good friend.

But I also know that Vin very much wanted people to be happy. I think he would have thought it silly to spend a lot of time dwelling on regret. So I want to learn from this, grow a bit. And I think one way to do that will be to stop letting fear, self-doubt, even awkwardness drive separation between me and others. I am blessed to know, and have known, so many amazing people. Past situations have come between some of us. Sometimes it’s been time and distance. Often it’s my own self-consciousness. I want to try and let this fresh regret push at my back to seek connection, even reconciliation, with the people in my life. I never again want to have to wonder what beauty could’ve been found in the person before me.

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