The phone rang at about eleven thirty at night. Margaret was folding laundry, and looked over at me. Who is it? I looked at my phone, it was Dimitris. “Hello, Dimitris?” On the other end of the phone, there was the sound of a man’s voice, muffled. I couldn’t make out what was happening. “Dimitris, you okay, hello?” In a pained, scratchy voice, I heard “Yeah, Kev, it’s me. It’s Dimitris.” Opening his mouth to speak must have been like the opening of a dam- he began to sob. I could hear him weeping, like a child. Or maybe not like a child- I’ve only known adults to be able process pain in such a way as to produce a cry of that depth. “Dimitris, you gotta tell me what’s going on.”
He composed himself, and he said, slowly “Kevin, I never told you. I’m a father. Or I was a father. I had a kid when I was real young. He moved to California with his mother. He was beautiful. Seven years old…” He broke into tears again. “But now he’s dead. He died in a car accident.” The phone was silent for a minute. “I’m out here in California, at his funeral. I can’t go on. I can’t do this… Needless to say, Kevin, I won’t be able to come to class tomorrow morning, to pose for the portrait painting students.”
I paused, and prayed that God might give me some wisdom to share, something for him to hold on to, something, anything. Nothing came to mind. “Dimitris, I don’t know what to say, I have nothing to say. I just want to let you know that you are my friend, that I love and care for you. When you come back home, I want to get together, hang out, walk with you through this. But beyond being there for you, I just don’t know what to say.” Dimitris was silent, and was softly crying. “Thanks Kev.” In instances like these, my mind immediately turns towards God, and how much he loves and cares for us. When Jesus walked this earth, he was very close friends with a man by the name of Lazarus. He received word that Lazarus was sick, and several days later, Jesus stood in front of Lazarus’ tomb. There in that tomb lay the dead body of his friend. All of the Jews were gathered around that tomb, weeping, mourning, grieving the loss of Lazarus. And here’s the interesting thing- Jesus knew that God would be raising Lazarus back from the dead, and yet, it is written that “Jesus wept.” If Jesus knew that God would simply raise Lazarus from the dead, then why did Jesus cry? I believe he cried, because those he loved cried. He witnessed their tears, he knew their pain. God loves us, and our pain pains him. Lazarus did, indeed, rise from the dead. But what about when our loved ones pass away, and they do not rise again? Why? I don’t know. But I know that as I shed my tears, as Dimitris shed his tears, that a loving God is up in heaven, and he grieves for us, he shares our pain. God loves us. That’s all I know.
“Dimitris, can I pick you up for class, in a few weeks, when you are ready?” Dimitris responded calmly “Yeah, man, your studio is like some kind of freak healing center or something. I just walk in that place, and all my troubles just melt away. It’s a happy place, with all that classical music you play. I’ll be there.”
Two weeks later, Dimitris walked into the studio. He had a skateboard. He had skated seven or eight miles, just to be in class. He wasn’t himself, he was withdrawn and quiet. I expected a change, at least for a few months, but the expectation didn’t soften the reality. It hurt to see him in such a deep state of mourning. He posed for the painting, and while I painted, several other students painted other projects, other portraits, and the studio hummed along. When he spoke, he cried. When he cried, he walked out of the room to compose himself. My students loved Dimitris, they all fought over whose turn it was to paint him next.
Please join me, this fall, for the Suffolk County Historical Society exhibition, “Facing History.” Opening night is October 10th, six p.m. Click for more details http://suffolkcountyhistoricalsociety.org/events.html
Dimitris, oil on linen, 20″ x 36″