Except for my dad. A physicist, inventor, and business owner, he spoke in numbers. Spreadsheets. Mathematics. Art to him was the neat row of framed patents that lined his office wall. His creativity flowed when he pulled the ubiquitous ballpoint pen from his breast pocket and grabbed a nearby napkin or receipt to sketch the genesis of his next product design. Preoccupied and peripheral at home, he of the left brain watched as his right-brained wife and progeny blossomed around him in a riotous garden of creative expression.
The children grew up, moved out, had families of their own. Over the many years, his mental acuity began to soften and fade. Her artistic hands became stilled by arthritis. Then one day, her gentle voice of beauty was heard no more.
Artists use the term “negative space” to describe the area in a painting, photo, or sculpture where the subject is not. The background surrounds the subject and helps to define its shape. Think of Michelangelo, chipping away the marble’s negative space to release the masterpiece trapped within.
The passing of someone you love creates a negative space where they once were but are no longer. The absence may be palpable—as real and dynamic a thing as their presence ever was—and the negative shape can have an unforeseen, positive power to transform what remains.
Without my mother and without his former mental prowess, my father began to put forth tiny tendrils of artistic expression into the void. He painted a picture of flowers, primitive and child-like, which I treasure. He led his pretty physical therapist in an impromptu walker-dance before giving her braid a playful tug with a laugh. At a Dixieland concert, my dad couldn’t contain his kinetic delight in the upbeat tunes but played invisible drums and “conducted” with his gnarled hands until the last note sounded. Beauty flourished in this surprising and sacred negative space. So when the Creator’s whispered words of love fell gently onto the tilled, fertile soil of his heart, he understood and nodded simply, "Yes."