The e-mail came from tony’s son, Phil, asking if I could help his dad. Tony was a retired businessman in his late eighties, suffering from dementia. He was getting excellent care in an assisted-living facility, except for one thing. “Pop loved to paint more than anything,” Phil wrote. “I wonder if you could help him do it again.”
“I’m not really an artist,” I wanted to say. Actually, I was a flight attendant. True, I worked on weekends at a rehabilitation center, teaching art as therapy, helping people who were recovering from falls or broken limbs or long hospital stays. Art gave them a purpose, I liked to think. But I’d always worked with groups, never with someone one-on-one and never with a dementia patient.
Phil explained how his dad had become quiet, withdrawn. Once he had painted, and it had seemed to give him great satisfaction. If only he could have a brush in hand again. “It would mean so much to him,” Phil said. “To have that joy again.”
The joy of painting. The idea tugged at my heart. If there was anything I knew, it was how God could use the arts—painting, drawing, sculpting, music making—to help people find their way back to themselves, their best selves. As I said, I’m not a professional artist. But art came to me at a time when I desperately needed help.
Let me go back two decades. I was liv ing in Atlanta and working lon