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(detail) c. Susan Sorrell Hill

(detail) c. Susan Sorrell Hill

Our friend John died today.

We had known him for thirty-five years and a lot had happened to all of us during that time. John was a presence, a self-made man in the best tradition, a force to be reckoned with. He accomplished and adventured much in his span of sixty years.

John was: lightness and darkness, sweetness and sometimes less so, massive self-confidence and sometimes a little wiggly, independent and sometimes lonely. He was boundless energy personified and sometimes he was nailed to the floor. John was determined to make things happen and sometimes unable to let things happen naturally. He was adventurous and brave and yet there were some places he probably just could not go. John inspired great love, and occasionally the opposite.

In a word…John was human, just like me.

In his last days of consciousness, all of his light and sweetness were very much in evidence, and all of the less-so’s of the human nature had been surrendered. It was a good death, with time for closure with his family and many friends. He was seen and appreciated in abundance for his essential qualities, and I think that had always been his secret goal, perhaps even unknown to him. Perhaps that is all of our secret goals as we machinate through life trying to prove ourselves…?

Watching it all unfold over the course of a month taught me something important. I saw clearly that the light, soul-centered side of one’s nature is always there in the background, sometimes in evidence and sometimes well-disguised. But in the end, the side of Light is the only presence that holds sway. It is the essence of who we each are, and the only part that continues to live on, somehow and somewhere. Watching John go through his dying taught me that each of our essences, the spirit of wholeness and loving peace, is always available, just underneath all that stuff we humans tend to ‘lead’ with in this life. We never lose it, and we return to it at the last, even if we’ve been a bit estranged for quite some time.

Thanks for that lesson, John. I will endeavor to deserve it and practice letting my own light shine more often. Godspeed on your next adventure.

“A New Life”      (watercolor, pen & ink)       

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c. Susan Sorrell Hill

The Illustration Friday word of the week is afterwards.

You may have noticed a definite metaphysical bent to my musings? Well, today I tackle the big question: what happens afterwards? You know…after the event that Robin Williams (as his character, Patch Adams, in the movie of the same name) refers to as,

“Death. To die. To expire. To pass on. To perish. To peg out. To push up daisies. To push up posies. To become extinct. Curtains, deceased, demised, departed and defunct. Dead as a doornail. Dead as a herring. Dead as a mutton. Dead as nits. The last breath. Paying a debt to nature. The big sleep. God’s way of saying: Slow down. To shuffle off this mortal coil. To blink for an exceptionally long period of time. To be the incredible decaying man. Kick the bucket. Take the cab.”

And his sidekick in the movie adds,

“To check out. To head for the happy hunting ground. To find oneself without breath. Worm buffet. Buy the farm. Cash in your chips.”

What happens after all that?? Well, there are lots of theories: we go into the Light, we come back as ourselves again in another life, we come back as an animal, we go to another planet or dimension, we hang around to haunt houses and our relatives, we hang out in the big Limbo if we’ve been exceptionally naughty, we go to Heaven on good merit, we turn into angels, and the most imponderable: we stop existing. Most of us, if we are self-aware and honest enough to admit it, are at least a little nervous about what comes next after this life. We all have our favorite, comforting scenarios, but the truth is: nobody knows for sure. It’s a great Mystery.

Abraham Lincoln wrote, “The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time.” On a similar note, the  American poet, Theodore Roethke, wrote, “I learn by going where I have to go.” Both men may have been referring to other things, but if their philosophy is applied to this question of life and what comes afterwards, pretty much all we are left with in the face of our huge unknowing is… (you guessed it) the present moment, the Now. And the next now, and the next, until suddenly, the now we will find ourselves in is in the afterwards.

If they’ve got the Universal Mail System worked out by the time I get to the Afterwards, I’ll send you a postcard to let you know how it really is…(but don’t hold your breath!).

“Afterwards” (watercolor, pencil, gouache)


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c. Susan Sorrell Hill

Continuing with the theme paintings… This week’s Illustration Friday word is expired. “A New Life” (watercolor, pen & ink, pencil) is the first illustration for a children’s picture book that I’ve been working on intermittently. “The Journey of Mr. Tweet” begins with these words, “On the day that Mr. Tweet’s keeper disappeared, he found his cage door open…”

Is your first association with the word ‘expire’… death?? Mine was. But then I remembered that most ancient traditions see Life as a circle, and believe that “the wheel of Life turns and returns.” Therefore, what we call death will always, inevitably, be followed by a rebirth… and new life. This seems a very appropriate theme for the last day of winter and the arrival of the Spring Equinox, the official first day of Spring. In California, this season’s tradition is the changing of the clocks for Daylight Savings Time, and although this modern ‘ritual’ is commerce-inspired, it still shifts my focus from wintery inward-ness to looking outward as days warm and lengthen, and trees once again put on their green clothes. Hooray!

I will be writing more about new beginnings and the original New Year’s Day next week…

While you’re waiting, more of my work can be seen at www.susansorrellhill.com

More artist’s works inspired by the word extinct (and many other words) can be seen at Illustration Friday.

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