We are all a part of the Spiral
Hurricane Irma was coming straight for us. For days the forecast had narrowed until everything pointed to St. Petersburg. Strangely, having grown up here with my grandmother always saying this peninsula was protected by the Indians who left their mounds here, I felt like it would somehow turn, at the last moment, like it always had. That did not prevent me from boarding up my house, laying in water and food, planning to loss electricity, having two escape plans and knowing exactly how far away the shelter was. It seemed in those last days of preparing that time slowed to a crawl. And as the hours passed and the storm crept closer people began to show their true natures. It reminded me of the nurse at the cancer ward who told me “now you will see who these people really are and it will surprise you. The ones you thought were nice may not be, people you thought little of will shine, people will turn away… cancer makes people real”. I think hurricanes do the same.
Family called, friends called. People thought I was crazy for staying. I thought about my mother’s saying, “If it’s your day to die and you hide under the bed, the bed will fall on you.”
It did turn… in those last hours and I worried for those people who at the last found it was coming for them. It came for all of Florida in one way or another.
After the storm, on that first evening, a spontaneous gathering of the folks who stayed on our block occurred on the street. Everyone emerged seemingly at the same time from their boarded up houses, laughing, chatting, sharing wine and stories. I looked around to see most houses still intact, trees down, everything scattered, yet the breeze was so cool, the light very special, people’s faces so warm, so kind, I knew that this was a very special moment. One I would remember, these neighbors were now much more to me, nature had changed us. For a very short time the whole world was just our tiny block cut off by a big downed oak, the dogs running and playing in the street just as we did.
I don’t wait well. But life is really about waiting to see what happens. We do all we can but then we wait, and good or bad it never fails to surprise.
What did I do while I waited? I painted. The paintings are like the storm - calm and turbulent, sharp then soft, all movement - spiraling. Darkness amid striking light. Did the hurricane find it’s way into those canvases? How could it not? Certainly it occurred to me that over the last year I have been focused, almost obsessed, with the spiral, painting it over and over. I have been saying in this blog as I recorded events occurring that we are all a part of the spiral.
For a brief time the spiral was both outside and inside me. I stood on my porch and felt its power. And it was both beautiful and terrifying.
Meet me on the other side of the storm.
I hope this day finds you safe.
Stories have power! Nothing is lost if someone remembers. Tell their stories in words, in music, in paint.
They connect us to the past, the now, and the future.
With so many friends and family in Texas, Hurricane Harvey has filled my thoughts for the last several days. Remembered news pictures of Katerina, my own experience of Agnes as a child, my grandmother’s stories of the great hurricane of Miami 1926. Her house was the only one left standing for blocks, she said because it was made of stone. She was a new wife 20 years old. She and my grandfather had come to Miami for work. After the hurricane she turned her house into a big kitchen and cooked for her entire community while everyone pitched tents and rebuilt around her. She was an amazing woman, already a seasoned survivor. An orphan, who at six, came to live with a family who had lost their only child. She recalled to her grandchildren that she had nothing by the clothes on her back and a hand written note our family still has. It had her name, her age at last birthday and that she had had measles, whooping cough and small pox. She had no birth certificate, no pictures, no one, just hope for a better future. She continues to be the standard I weigh my life against. She had so much love for people, for life, for every new day and every opportunity.
People amaze me in how we have the ability to continue to move forward in terrible times.
The earth has such power to create and to destroy. I have problems with finding balance. Balance between living joyously and losing myself to despair of all the hate, death, sadness, and cruelty that is this world.
But always in the darkest of times it is all of the people like my grandmother that inspire and give me hope. I stand amazed at the power of stories - how they matter, how they change you.
It is my greatest hope that my paintings can touch people, ignite their stories. It’s why I paint, to engage, to be able to have a conversation soul to soul. My painting Ravens Flight is about freeing my mother’s soul from the tethers of life, Alzheimer’s had imprisoned her, at her death she was at last free again but I held her so tightly, mourned her so deeply I also had to let go so she could fly. It was purchased by a gentleman who was battling cancer. He and his wife were facing their own letting go and anticipated flight. I asked them where they planned to hang it? “By the bed” was their response. Such a private place. We shared that moment. He has since made his journey. And when I think of that painting now is more than just my mother’s story, it is his story too.
Nothing is lost it someone remembers.
We are all a part of the spiral
YaeL Kelley lives and works at her studio in the Artist Enclave of historic Kenwood in St. Petersburg, Florida. Petersburg, Florida.