We reached the end of the row, and Father Seraphim motioned to a bench a short distance to our right, “Let’s sit for a while, I need a rest.”
“I also wondered about Josh’s friend Richard. You said that he also was baptized as well…can you tell me what happened to him?”
“Richard…now there’s a gentle soul. Despite the violence of that night which landed them in so much trouble. I got to know Richard very well and grew to love him over the years, although I have to admit I would never have met him—nor taken much notice of him—were it not for Josh. He was a very good friend to Richard. He looked out for him, almost like a father, though he was only a few years older…maybe more like an older brother…but without the competitive angst. Even from prison Josh cared for Richard, and he asked me to visit him in his new home. It wasn’t easy though, getting in to see him…it was out of my jurisdiction…and they weren’t too interested in having a priest visit.” Father Seraphim let out a sigh and shook his head in disgust, “I guess we’re bad influences now! What a shame!”
“Did his own family ever visit him?” I asked.
“No. And I think that’s why they eventually relented and allowed me to visit Richard…since he had no other visitors….no, I take that back, Amelia sometimes visited…but no other adults. He was miserable in that place,” he shook his head indignantly and continued with an edge of anger in his voice, “I wonder if they really understand that those kids are human beings…I mean, I’m not sure they ever saw Richard as anything more than just a case…they gave him a case manager, medical staff…prescribed drugs for him…fed him—I’ll give them that much…and a bed—praise the Lord…but gave no effort to know him as a person. At least I never saw it.”
“What about the portrait of Amelia, did you see that? The one Richard drew…I think while he was there…” I interjected excitedly. “It is quite remarkable, I think.”
Father Seraphim’s eyes grew wide and he smiled broadly, “Yes! I’m glad you mentioned that! In fact, that portrait was very important. It gave me my first real insight into Richard…his talent of course…but his depth more importantly.”
I added hastily, “Exactly! It is so expressive and captures so much about…well, Amelia specifically…but more than just her…so much about the human condition, don’t you think?!”
“There is great range in that portrait, I agree…not only depth but breadth as well; there’s passion, and strength…vitality, and sadness…and beauty. So much beauty…and that’s very important, do you know why? Because beauty is not just the icing on the cake after all! It is the principal thing!” Father Seraphim declared with conviction. “I’m not just talking simply about a pretty face…although that’s something…but beauty is the essence of love, the result of all love…love produces beauty, and beauty is its symbol…beauty is the marker that points us back to love!”
“I hadn’t thought of it that way,” I admitted.
“And it points us in the direction of God, if you’re willing to accept that. Beauty is the language of love…of God’s love. And Richard knew this truth intimately…intuitively…without any formal training, he already had become a master in the art of beauty, and in portraying the love of God…at least that’s my opinion,” Father Seraphim concluded.
“Did you know he kept a photo of Amelia, but he lost it when he moved into the group home; before he drew that portrait of her?”
“Josh told me all about that. Yes. Let me tell you…Richard spoke very little, not much at all…but we spoke about that portrait. I asked him to explain it to me, if he would. And he said one thing in particular that always stood out to me, and I never forgot it—that he didn’t know Amelia until he drew her portrait. At first, he drew it to remember her, and to feel close to her…and as a remedy for his loneliness…and his grief…but what he hadn’t expected, and what he didn’t know would happen…as he drew her portrait he actually discovered her, and came to know her in ways he never had before.” Father Seraphim spoke quietly, almost reverently as he said this, and then more loudly once again, “perhaps the skeptic, or a cynic might say he only discovered his own illusions about her!…but I think it is a mystery…maybe a little magical too, if you’ll forgive me that word…art revealing the truth that was hidden from view! Is it objective?…subjective?…maybe a little of both…but the act of creation, done in love, is an act of discovery, and of genuine, authentic revelation, in my humble opinion!” Father Seraphim concluded again, this time triumphantly. “Our art, whether it is painting, or music, or literature, perhaps poetry…whatever it may be…it is no mere trifle, nor is it a superfluous thing…but it reveals the essence of who we are…we need it, even…to discover who we are! Art, beauty…without these things…I believe that we are lost!”
“Did Richard have to stay in that group home for very long?” I asked, after I had sat for a while silently reflecting upon the importance of beauty, and of art.
“About two years…about two years too long. They finally released him into his parent’s custody, but he came to live with me. He worked with me…learning to serve at the altar…and he became an Orthodox Christian, before Josh did, in fact. You would think that Richard would be the one to follow Josh, given their…well, who they are…at least based on how we typically see things in this world…but it was often the other way around…with Josh following after Richard, learning from Richard. They had a unique friendship those two…Josh was humble enough to follow and learn from…someone like Richard…and he gained a lot that otherwise would have been lost…or simply never discovered.”
“Interesting!” I exclaimed suddenly, as an insight came to me that seemed possibly true, “Perhaps Josh actually lives an artful life…like you were just saying about the act of creation…and somehow because of that…he is able to discover things about himself and about Richard that would otherwise be left undiscovered. Someone recently told me they think Josh’s life is like a poem, lived out on multiple levels of meaning simultaneously…it is as if his life is his art…not literally through painting or by writing…but through the way he lives, so beautifully even…and this leads him…and others around him…it leads us to love!”
“And I might add…in the direction towards God! Which is the point of this life, and our death, I believe,” Father Seraphim added. “And I was going to say something else about Richard…oh, what was it? Ah, Richard began to write…paint icons…yes, I taught him the basics myself while he was with me. As you can imagine he took to it very well. In fact, let’s walk back to the church and I’ll show you some of his work.”
* * *