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Happily, I discovered one of many expressions of Vincent van Gogh’s angst shared in a letter with his brother Theo, his sole confidante:

“There may be a great fire in our soul, yet no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passers-by only see a wisp of smoke through the chimney, and go along their way. Look here, now, what must be done? Must one tend the inner fire, have salt in oneself, wait patiently yet with how much impatience for the hour when somebody will come and sit down near it—maybe to stay? Let him who believes in God wait for the hour that will come sooner or later.”  Letter # 155 from The Letters of Vincent van Gogh (1873 – 1890).

The great fire in our soul references the presence of the Sacred that van Gogh experienced in prayer and its extension in oils on canvases and other mediums. He knew the inner fire and the salt in oneself, both biblical images,that fueled his passion to explore the untried; but the impermanence of this state provoked impatience, and this letter seemed to have emanated from one of his dry spells. Still, van Gogh painted, subjects that caught his imagination, whether indoors or outdoors, at times, striking his passion into flame.

The oil-on-canvas, Plain Near Auvers (1890 – the year of his death) attracted my attention. Variants of greens, blues, yellows, and whites caught the dynamism of a peasant’s fields, with crows flitting among grasses in the foreground. The uncertainty of the sky escalates the drama: the Sacred surprises as in our lives. Note in the right-hand corner the addition of three red roses in the grasses.

Vincent van Gogh’s willingness to participate in the Creator’s plan, with broad brushstrokes and heavy pigments, challenges me to deepen my gift of writing in the time allotted me.  

Mirth, camaraderie, photos of the octogenarian, splashes of floral arrangements, helium balloons, candles, choicest wines, a savory supper, heartfelt toasts—all blend into a multifaceted harmony that enlivens hearts of the very young and old.

Who is this woman with an uncanny knack of being in crisis with others until they inch their way out? From whence comes her passion for living, her laughter that trounces the outworn?

A rule-breaker from her earliest years, she still regales listeners with stories: commandeering the horse-drawn milk truck on Kingshighway Boulevard for a ride to her parochial school; faking her age to work in the nursery of the old St. Johns Hospital in order to fund her tuition at Xavier High School; placing a lit cigarette in the outstretched hand of the statue of Mary in the foyer of that hospital; having to change high schools in her senior year, and so much more.

From voracious reading and chancing the untried, she learned that nothing is as it seems. Her parenting five children and care for sixteen grandchildren, her earning a doctoral degree while working nights in the emergency room at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, playing at the Gloucester lighthouse during annual retreats—all have her maverick touch. And learning of the need for transitional housing for ex-women offenders, she developed Magdela House in South St. Louis.

Time seems suspended in this confluence of energies swelling her daughter’s ranch house under a Passover moon. How easily the honoree moves among us in her silk harlequin-print dress (maroon-navy-black-white diamonds); it suggests the jester’s hilarity, extricating life-lessons from continuous challenges. Such is God’s work.

Her response caps the evening: “Everyone in this room has been, and still is, very significant to me. I hope I’ve loved you well. I also feel that I’ve just arrived at the first base camp on Mount Everest. Still more climbing awaits me until I reach the summit. I love you all!”

This is my friend Pat, the next morning found tending petunias at The Greenhouse.



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