I recently listened to a podcast from one of my very favorite shows called radiolab. Painter Chuck Close and Neuroscientist/author Oliver Sacks were both interviewed about their faceblindness, a condition that makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to recognize faces, even of loved ones. Both men had amazing perspectives and tactics for navigating the world with such a challenge. I was particularly struck by Close's story, remembering standing before one of his gigantic portraits in DC several years ago, with every detail of the man's face meticulously, maybe even neurotically recorded. It was brilliantly extreme. And now to learn that this man who spends his life pouring over the faces of person after person can't actually remember their likeness until he's able to record them in a two dimensional plane...I was floored.
I'm always mesmerized to hear stories of a person's disabilities being the path to their genius. There's something so very redemptive about it. And Close's story fit right in. He talks about how even when he was a kid he picked up art to divert attention from his physical disabilities and have a means of receiving attention apart from the sports he couldn't join. So he started his art education at 8 and finally when he started making the work the world would know him by, it was born out of his struggles with face blindness. He often says that if he hadn't gone to yale he probably would have ended up in jail.
I've never read the gospel of thomas, but i recently heard a quote that rang true to his story, and I think to mine too: "If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you." One of my favorite art teachers Paige Williams would often encourage us with the axiom, "your passion is your edge," and those words seemed to clear a path for making my best work. But it seems also true that your woundedness, your disability, your struggle can be your edge. Maybe those things aren't too far from your passion anyway, with all the ingredients of that which "is within" us mixing together like an intricate marinade for a delicious feast, if only we would have the guts to honestly face it...no, to soak in it ...with dignity, patience and grace.