The Blind Artist and The Painting – Erev Rosh Hashana 5776
When Hal and Julie Hanson were married, all of their dreams seemed to be coming true. In 1993, they were blessed with a healthy baby, who grew into a healthy kid. All seemed well, until little Jeff started bumping into things. “He couldn’t see that there was a curb,” Hal said. “He couldn’t see that there was a stairway, and he would fall down it. And we realized, he’s not seeing a lot.”
Their only child had a genetic disorder called neurofibromatosis. The disease caused a brain tumor that was stunting his growth, and slowly robbing him of his sight.
Hal loved astronomy, and so as a parent, he wanted to show his child the stars and start to teach him about the sky.
Little Jeff stepped away from the telescope and looked up at the sky and said, ‘Do you see stars just when you look up with your eyes?’ And his father said, ‘Yes, there’s millions of stars.’ And Jeff said, ‘I don’t see any.’ And Hal realized that his son’s sky didn’t have any stars.
Doctors fought hard to shrink his tumor and save what little vision he had left. To distract Jeff during chemotherapy, his mother Julie would have him use watercolors to decorate little notecards.
And as he painted, something inside him clicked.
“To me, it was nothing more than kid art,” said his father Hal. “I didn’t see any genius to it. It would be something that you would put on the refrigerator with a magnet and forget it in a couple of days, and it would make it to the trash can.”
Luckily, it turns out, Julie couldn’t bring herself to throw any of her son’s artwork away.
“I started using his note cards for thank-you notes during chemotherapy and radiation,” she said. “But as I started to do that, my friends would say, ‘Do you have any extras? I would love some of those.'”
His parents helped turn the basement of their Kansas City home into a rainbow-splattered studio.
Jeff is now twenty-one and he is legally blind. But this hasn’t stopped him — or apparently even slowed him down.
He’s now done over 1,400 paintings.
After expenses, Jeff makes around $50,000 a year.
He’s in it for the money — but not for himself. For every painting that Jeff sells, he donates another one. For Jeff, the real goal isn’t making a fortune: it’s raising a fortune and giving it away. Hanson’s paintings frequently sell for $20,000 or more at charity auctions. A couple of years ago he made a vow to give away a million dollars by age 20. He made it — with two days to spare.
Jeff Hanson may never see the stars in the sky; his father gave up on that dream a long time ago.
“You can’t see stars with tears in your eyes,” his father Hal said, “And it made me cry. So, we move on. And this is a new horizon.”
Like his paintings, Jeff’s future is brighter than his parents could ever have hoped — and that’s something you don’t need a telescope to see.
The Blind Artist is not what we would call physically complete; he can‘t see. But he did not accept his incompleteness and he has become a painter.
I read this story, and I was inspired. A blind artist. A person who can see things through his inner sight; the colors are within him.
Here are most of us, with no such limitations, complaining every day about everything.
On the High Holidays, we think about the big things, but especially about our lives. The High Holidays are about introspection. They are about self-evaluation, self-improvement. Are we what we wanted to be? Are we the kind of people we hoped to be?
And on the High Holidays, we stop and think about our relationship with G-d.
G-d is a painter who created the universe and created us. But unlike the Blind artist, it’s not the Painter Who is incomplete. Instead, it seems like G-d has left the painting incomplete and we’ve been left to finish it.
There is a movie that says exactly the same thing. Thanks to the guidance of one of my friends across the street at Best Video, I watched a French animated film called LE TABLEAU, in English, THE PAINTING. It is a very creative parable.
For mysterious reasons, there is a painting that has not been finished. The Painter never finished the painting and now there is conflict between the different people in the painting. There is a whole kingdom within the painting. The kingdom is divided into three castes, three different types of people.
One type is called the Alldones. They are all done, they are entirely painted and complete, they are impeccably and completely colored. The Alldones.
The second group is the Halfies, who lack a few colors; they are partly done, somewhat done, incomplete Halfies.
Last there are the Sketchies, barely outlined in charcoal – they are only sketches.
So there are Alldones, Halfies and Sketchies.
The Alldones occupy the mansion in the painting, the Halfies are out in the gardens while the Sketchies are not only treated as outcasts by the Alldones; the Alldones hunt them and want to kill them. The Alldones consider themselves superior, have all the power, chase the Halfies from the mansion, and enslave the Sketchies. The Aldones treat both the Sketchies and the Halfies inhumanely.
The plot of the movie is that three friends, one from each class, go on a quest to find the Painter in the hope that He will finish the painting and make everyone all done, hopefully uniting the people. These three friends are convinced that only the Painter can restore harmony by finishing the painting and they decide to go looking for Him.
Throughout the adventure, they ask questions: “What happened to the Painter? Why did He abandon them? Can they learn the Painter’s secret?”
But in the end, the characters find paints and paint themselves.
In case you don’t get the parable, this is about our relationship with G-d.
We are not complete. This seems like bad news. We pray to G-d to finish us.
Rosh Hashanah says that none of us are All done.
We should pray to G-d and thank Him for what He’s given us but also for what He did not give us. We are Halfies, missing some colors, or we are sketches, the mere outlines of what we may become. We have to take the brushes and paint ourselves. G-d has put us in the painting; He has given us life and now we pray that we will have the wisdom under His guidance to paint ourselves in positive ways.
The Blind Artist was not what we would call physically complete; he couldn‘t see. But he did not accept his incompleteness and he has become a painter. If he can become a painter, why can’t we? Why can’t we fill in what G-d has not? We are just sketched by G-d and we have to do the rest.
So ask yourself: ARE YOU A SKETCH, A HALFIE OR AN ALLDONE?
The horrible part of the movie is that the Alldones hunt the Sketchies. The Alldones feel that they are superior because they have been fully painted. But they didn’t do anything to get that way; they were just painted that way.
We all know people who think they’re Alldone.
They are the people who are together and make fun of those who aren’t. They say things like: “Why doesn’t she just get a job? Why is she so scared to commit to a relationship?”
I have two problems with people who are Alldones: How they think about other people and treat other people badly, but also how, at some point in their lives, they begin to think about themselves.
Because for all the smugness of the Alldones, at a certain point, they change their tune.
I talk to me people all the time who say, “My life is over. I’m all done. Stick a fork in me.”
I say to them, “There is so much that you can do, so much you can learn, so much that you can continue to mean to other people, so much that you have to teach just by your example.”
It’s ironic, but it’s often the very people who were so smug, who put others down, who were so critical of other people’s deficiencies, who then turn on themselves when they become limited, when all of a sudden, or gradually, they are not as complete as they once were.
They hate needing help.
They are mad at themselves for not being what they once were.
They were unfair to others and now they are unfair to themselves.
They were wrong to begin with: None of us are ever Alldone and we should never think that we are.
I never want to be an Alldone. G-d forbid that I think that I’m an Alldone. I pray that I will never feel Alldone as long as I live.
After all, if I was fortunate enough to be born with a decent brain and a healthy body, if I was not born with any limitations, it’s not because of anything I did. So how can I put down those who were not as fortunate as I am but that also didn’t do anything to be born that way? And if I was lucky enough to be born into a family that was a family, if I was lucky enough to have two parents who nurtured me and encouraged me, I should appreciate that luck and not blame those who did not have the kind of loving home that I did and therefore can’t see some of the colors of the painting called life that I can see.
Still, all those who can’t see all the colors should be inspired by the Blind artist, who found those colors within even if he could not see them outside of himself.
So that’s my thought for this first night of the New Year: Remember the characters in the painting that realized that G-d painted them in different ways and now they needed to paint themselves. Just like the Blind artist who realized that G-d had painted him in a certain way, and who took his brush and started painting in colors, so that he could bring happiness to everyone around him.