When we were children, my talented mother would often gather us around the kitchen table for an art lesson. She taught us how to blend watercolor rainbows, carve detailed soap fishes, and make elaborate modeling-clay fruit baskets. While our peers were drawing faces on their stick figures, we were shading dimension into our still-life sketches.
One day Mother showed us how to draw a railroad track. By converging the rails at the horizon, we could make it appear to go on endlessly. To add to the illusion, we drew in a row of telephone poles, each pole getting smaller as it followed the railroad track to the distant hills. “Perspective,” Mother called it. But as a child I didn’t fully appreciate what a qualified teacher she was on the subject.
Years later, as we were busily preparing for a Christmas dinner, my teenaged sister excitedly reached into the cupboard for the silver-rimmed china. The lovely Smokey Rose set had been Grandmother’s wedding present to Mom and Dad and was used only on special occasions. But as my sister removed some of the precious plates from the cupboard, she bumped her arm and the china slipped from her hands. Her desperate attempts to recover the plates were in vain, and the crash of china shattering on the floor was as heartbreaking as the look of helpless horror on her face.
Mother’s meal-preparing hands stopped in midair, and the festive chatter of abustling household ceased as we all stood frozen in awful silence. Without turning around to see the damage, Mother quietly slipped out of the room. Then, like the sound of a phonograph record winding up to speed, the rest of us tried to resume the tempo of our holiday duties.
Except my sister. She stood motionless, a big tear trickling down her cheek. As another tear fell, she mechanically found the broom and dustpan and began sweeping up the scattered chips. Then, on her knees, she slowly picked up the larger pieces and carefully placed them in the dustpan.
Within a few minutes Mother returned to the kitchen and wrapped her arms around her grieving daughter. My sister began to sob out loud, and it was then that Mother expanded upon the art lesson begun years before around another kitchen table. Quietly she soothed, “That’s all right, honey; people are more important than things.”
Mother later told me that she had gone into the other room to pray and was blessed with a peaceful feeling and the inspiration of how to comfort my sister. The gift of spiritual perspective given to my mother that Christmas day became the most priceless gift our family received, as we children learned that we were more precious than fine china.
Now I have children of my own, and I have often been reminded of that sweet lesson from my mother, who so artfully illustrated the value of perspective—with people as well as with pictures.