A few years ago, I went to an art exhibition at the Ian Potter centre. The artist made all this art out of bits and pieces of stuff – pieces of corrugated iron that were on her farm, old road signs she had cut up and rearranged.
The best thing about the exhibition was the feeling it elicited in me: a wave of inspiration that said, “Wow – I could do that!” Not in the sense of replicating what she had done, or a cynical, “Well that looked easy enough.” It was simultaneous admiration, coupled with a kind of creative nudge. The artwork said to me, “Go on – it’s your turn now!”
Lately I’ve had the same experience. I’ve felt a kind of creative inspiration – and not from going to an art gallery, or even seeing a musical performance. This ‘creative nudge’ has come from the life of Peter – my incredible brother who died from cancer a month ago today.
As I wrote in my eulogy at Pete’s funeral, if Jenny and Forest Gump were like peas and carrots, Pete and I were like lentils and steak sandwiches. It is hard to imagine two so completely different people. Throughout childhood Pete and I fought like crazy, and the divergent paths we took as we grew up pointed further to how differently God had created us. Pete found his straps in plumbing, earthmoving and farming, while I became a sort of urban-academic-religious-writer-community type person. “Behold I give you a study in diversity,” said our creator God.
After Peter died, I just wanted to sing. Somehow, something about Peter’s life had completely inspired me. It was as though, as he shone in his final days, he had turned to me and said, “Go on – it’s your turn now!"
I didn’t want to try my hand at plumbing, or see how it felt to be operate a large piece of machinery. This was Peter’s art – the way that he breathed life into clay, in quite a literal sense.
But I wanted to sing.
Peter was a work to behold because he was always 100 per cent, completely Pete. Honest, down-to-earth, a classic larrikin, who knew he was going to be an earthmover from the age of 3, and did it. I don’t think Pete ever tried to be someone else. He was his own thing, his own creation, his own kind of artist.
I have entered into Peter’s art, and my inspiration now is to go and do likewise. Pete had his own set of brushes, and I have mine. I laugh. I dance. I write. I strum my guitar, and I play my flute. I am also honest. I am also passionate. I meander. I encourage. I trust. I get excited about new things, and I appreciate worn paths.
And I sing.
That’s me, that’s my art. It’s my response to the call, my answer to his challenge, “Go on, it’s your turn now.”
After the funeral, people stood in the pouring rain around the biggest pile of logs I have ever seen. One of our big Cyprus trees had fallen to the ground, just a month before we buried Peter in the ground. Pete’s mates cut the tree up with a chainsaw and brought in an excavator to gather up the logs and make a bonfire. Under a grey, quivering sky, Pete’s mate Tom emptied a can of petrol on the enormous pile, dragging a tail of fuel through the grass. My brother John set the tail alight, and the flame travelled through the grass until it reached the pile of wood. Whoosh! Up she went. Everybody clapped and cheered.
The skies opened and everybody got soaked. But behind us, arching over the property, was a perfect rainbow, unable to hold itself back from the grey. It glistened in the paddock, lit up by the wash of rain.
* * *
“So what you are saying,” said my mentor, Anne, as I cradled an empty mug, “is that you have found there are colours, in amongst the grey.”
Yes, that is what I have found. While life is sometimes in muted pastels, this time of death brings grey – and a brilliance of colour I’ve not encountered before. In these puddles, we dance a new dance, inspired by the art of one’s life that we had never noticed as so brilliant before.
“Go on,” he said. “It’s your turn now.”