Don’t Die With Your Passion Still Inside You
By Curtis Aiken.
I remember my 10th birthday like it was yesterday, it was June 1st 1946. The second world war was over and normality was finally returning to life around us. My dad was back from the war and working a good job and my mum was smiling every day, like I had never seen before. Born shortly before the war began, I have no memories of a happier time for our family than what I was experiencing then. By today’s standards in the 21st century, life was hard in 1946 but in comparison to the previous few years where fuel, money and most of all food was in short supply, we were living in a sea of abundance.
That morning I bounced out of bed before the sun peeked over the nearby hills and raced to my parent’s bedroom. “Mum, Dad, wake up! It’s my birthday!” This was more special than any other birthday because I knew what was coming my way that day. A month earlier at the local town hall a famous artist held an exhibition of his paintings. I ran to the town hall after school every day and stood there for hours studying the paintings until I was kicked out at closing time. I knew during my very first visit to the exhibition that I wanted to be a painter. I could feel the desire building inside of me like a seedling bursting through the soil and growing larger every day.
I went to a local art supplies store with Mum and picked out a few of the fundamental tools; pencils, paper, bushes, paint and a few other items. Mum and dad wouldn’t give my present to me until my birthday though. It felt like a lifetime but the few days of anticipation passed and my birthday had finally arrived. I tore through the wrapping paper in seconds and began working on my first masterpiece.
Over the next few years my work improved with every painting. By the time I was 18 I was selling my pictures to locals on a regular basis. I made little more than enough money to buy more art supplies but I didn’t mind, I was painting for the love of painting, not for the love of money.
At the end of my final year at high school my parents encouraged me to go to university so I could get a good job. Over the next few years I studied hard and played hard with my friends at university. I was introduced to a whole new world of parties and girls around which I had to find time for studying. I spent a great deal of time with one particular girl who was to become my wife 6 months after I graduated. As my life became busier my spare time became less frequent and so did my painting.
Shortly after my wife and I married we bought a small 2 bedroom home and I set up my easel and art supplies in the spare room and turned it into my art studio. Even though I had my own studio, after finishing work and tending to other commitments that are a part of being a grown up I seldom had time to paint. It therefore made sense when our first son was on the way for me to pack up my art supplies and convert the room into a nursery.
I’m nearing my 76th birthday now. My children moved out of home a long time ago and my beautiful wife passed away a few short years back. I spend much of my time reminiscing of my younger days. I feel like I have unfinished business from my past, like I have left some task undone. I know what it is, too. My desire for painting never disappeared; I just never prioritised it above everything else going on in my life such as night studies to get better and better jobs. That was a ridiculous move, I couldn’t stand my career! If it wasn’t for my mortgage and the lifestyle I had become accustomed to I would have been happy being a penniless artist. Who knows though, had I continued to develop my art talent I believe the money would have followed.
My passion for art entered my thoughts often throughout my life but I was always too busy to act on it. “When I retire” I promised myself, “then I will have all the time in the world to paint.” I picked up a paint brush a few years back but already my arthritis was settling in and my hand just wasn’t as steady as it was when I was 18. There is an art gallery nearby my retirement home and I wander down there most days to admire the beautiful paintings. Sometimes I can almost see my name scribbled in the bottom corner of some of the canvases. Sadly though, my name has not been signed on any paintings in more than 50 years.
My days on this earth are numbered and I doubt this old body of mine will make it through another winter. One of my grandchildren asked me recently, “Grandad, what is the secret to living a long and happy life?” I thought about it for a minute and then had to swallow a lump of pain growing in my throat. I looked into his young, innocent eyes with his entire future ahead of him. Gently I put my hand on his shoulder and through tearing eyes I said “Son, don’t die with your passion still inside you.”
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