Hope. It’s what keeps us going, even when things get hard. When I was a teen I was lucky enough to spend time with my grandmother. She was an artist and she taught my siblings and me how to paint in her ceramic shop. I always marveled at her talent. She seemed to be able to pick up a brush and just create. I struggled with that but she never gave up trying to show me how to do better. We stayed up late playing card games and we waited up until she got off her swing shift as a floor supervisor at the local Sunsweet plant. Then, we watched movies together late into the night. Granny was a woman who seemed to be able to do it all.
I remember the picture that hung on the wall in my Aunt Charlotte’s bedroom. Charlotte was killed in a car accident when she was just 17. I never knew her except through the stories told by my grandmother and my mom. Charlotte was pretty much idolized by all who knew her and so anything that had belonged to her or represented her in any way was prized. This picture of “Hope” hung above Charlotte’s bed. Granny told me that one day, when she was “done with it”, I could have that picture. Although my grandmother has been gone for 14 years, that picture took a detour to my uncle’s home. Today, that picture came home to me. I admit that I cried on the way home after picking it up from my cousins. They had come to clean out his things after he moved in with one of his sons, and they saved “Hope” for me, just like Granny promised.
The picture was originally painted in 1886 by George Frederic Watts. It is an image of a blindfolded woman sitting atop a globe. She holds a lyre with her head bent down close to the instrument. There is only one string intact. When explaining the meaning of the painting, Watts says, “Hope need not mean expectancy. It suggests here rather the music which can come from the remaining chord”. This is a fitting explanation of the painting because indeed my grandmother won this painting as a young girl when all she had was one remaining cord. You see there was a nationwide art contest and my grandmother labored long over the perfect picture to enter. She was nine or ten years old at the time and as she walked to school the day that picture was due it was stormy. The wind blew her picture from her hands and sent it tumbling away, ruined by the rain. She arrived at school in tears. Her teacher told her to quickly draw something else to enter and she did. She drew a picture of a little girl in a storm, with tears running down her face, her paper racing in the wind. That hurriedly sketched picture won the contest and was displayed for a time at the Smithsonian. Her prize was a reproduction of the painting by Watts entitled “Hope”. It hung on her wall nearly all her life and will now hang on mine.
Some of us have many chords in our lyre, some of us have one. There are times in our life when we make music easily and other times when we struggle to strum just one single wire. As long as there is at least one chord we can make music. We may have to lean in closely to hear it, but there is music in each of us. Perhaps the blindfold that Hope wears is so that she can look inside and not be distracted by the world. Watts has taught us a powerful lesson, and Granny gave me a gift of more than just a painting, but a reminder that it doesn’t take much to make music, it just takes hope.