Lessons in Art Remembered in a Hot Shower

Whenever I take a long hot shower, I think of my seventh grade art teacher Mr. Griffith. (Not in any sort of salacious way, so if you’re looking for that kind of story, keep looking.) We called him Mr. Griff for short, per his instructions, and in truth he was a short, rather nerdy guy with glasses and a pocket protector that held his pens and pencils. As shocking as it might be, to myself perhaps most of all, I did not excel in his art course. At the time I was too timid to be considered creative enough for the work, too hesitant to step outside the boundaries in a way bold enough to glean the appreciation of the teacher. My methods were precise and exact, my technique measured and defined, and I didn’t allow room for error or experimentation. In other words, I was far too anal to let go; I wanted to get the theory and execution down perfectly before I played around. I don’t think he admired that, but such was my Virgo nature. We’re getting off track now, and this story isn’t about my failings as an art student, it’s about that hot shower.

When we worked on our projects, Mr. Griff would regale us with stories of students past, or incidents from his own life. It was far more interesting to me than the papier mache mannequin lady that another student was working on or the painting of a car that Mr. Griff fawned over. (A red sports car? Really? I knew then that my abstract pencil designs weren’t getting me anything over a solid ‘B’.) Once in a while, those stories touched me, especially the one he told on a cold winter morning.

He was stooping over the sink to wash his hands, and he paused as the water ran over them. Drying them off, he turned around to tell us about a girl in one of his classes. He said she was a nice enough girl, but very quiet. Kept to herself and did her work without making a fuss over anything. One day he watched as she stood at that sink, adjusting the water until it was warm. Once it was at the desired temperature, she didn’t move, simply stood there still, letting the water run over her hands. He puzzled over the scene for a moment, wondering at first if she was all right, then reached the point where he determined it was a wasteful pose, and was about to admonish her for taking so long. As he approached, she shut the water off. He decided to ask her why she just stood there letting the water run over her hands. She told him that she did not have hot water in her house, so whenever she had a chance to feel such warmth she enjoyed it.

That story changed my life more profoundly than any exercise in art class ever could, and it’s remained in my mind for those times when I take anything for granted. To this day, whenever I indulge in a long hot shower, I pause to remember the story, and the girl I never met, and I feel thankful and lucky, as if somewhere in that pause I’ve had a brush with grace.

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