I pass by it a dozen times a day. It hangs on our living room wall with two other paintings I made almost 20 years ago.

 

It’s called “Seated Cardinal with Green Umbrella,” an image that came to me in a dream. I’ve decided to think of it as my masterpiece.

I have pieces from my past painting life there, but this one always pulls at me as I pass. Vacuuming or dusting, going to play the piano, I stop and study the lighting, the texture, color, details.

I worked on it over and over for a year, before I just walked away and left it alone.

Is it finished? No.

Someone once said, “A work of art is never finished; it just stops at an interesting point.” So true.

The cardinal’s right hand, resting on the chair handle, is one of the best hands I’ve ever painted. Even the ring is perfect.

But it’s the face, or lack of a face, that draws the most comments.

It’s almost blank, void of detail, almost ghostly. The truth is, I never really finished it. There it is today, all these years later, a blank.

Now, when one virus follows another, and survival lives behind a mask and a never-ending rosary of injections, finishing anything glows with urgency.

My New Year’s resolution is to finish the face. So, in case a meteor hits, or I inhale deeply in the wrong places, it will be finished.

We’re reasonably healthy here in our castle. But I’m reminded that of the millions of souls who have passed so far once COVID-19 touched them, who were “reasonably” healthy — some, young and perfect.

I think this morning of the old man down in Kittery, going to his workshop in the snow, and seeing the handmade canoe for his grandson, still unfinished on the bench.

I think of the woman over in Athens, looking at the not-yet-completed patchwork quilt folded in the drawer.

I imagine the young nurse in Falmouth, who hasn’t visited her grandpa up in Bangor since the pandemic began.

All over Maine, people of middle- and later-age are facing projects they began and put aside, to finish “later.”

“Later” is a rock in our pockets we touch and forget, for when things “slow down” or when “this is over.”

“When this is over?”

Winter will be over, spring and summer and autumn will be over, and when winter comes again, with or without a new Latin tag to pronounce, all that’s undone will still be there.

Today, I hope the first weeks of the New Year will find the last coat of varnish brushed on that canoe, the quilt wrapped for mailing, and the nurse in Falmouth heading up Interstate 95 to Bangor.

Today, I look for the brushes and the bottles of paint, so that I can finish the face.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. 


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