Keeping a Promise

Have you ever dreamed of a loved one who has died? I did recently. In what seemed more like a visitation than a dream, Ray, who was my brother-in-law in life, appeared. Even though he passed away in 2002, I didn’t seem surprised to see him. However, I did feel guilty. 

Keeping a Promise
Only the day before, while working in my studio, I had seen a watercolor painting of Ray’s, laying in a basket. After Greg’s father passed away, we sorted through a house full of furniture and knick knacks and treasures. Ray, who was Greg’s older brother, gifted his mother with a small painting of swans on a lake. According to the note on the back of the framed artwork, Ray created the painting in 1983. The gift hung on the dining room wall until I packed it away and brought it home last year. 

That little watercolor has been in a basket in my office for more than a year. Every time I caught sight of it, I would think I need to display that. And yet there it remained. 

When I dreamed of Ray, the first thing I said to him was I’m sorry. I apologized for not doing something yet with his work of art. I didn’t want him to think that I was unappreciative of him or his painting. 

Keeping a Promise            Baby Ray

Keeping a Promise         Ray and his dog Robbie

Additionally, I felt like my apology could have been for not understanding Ray better while he lived. Although he was my brother-in-law and we got along fine, I never knew him as well as I could have. What I did know was that Ray was creative and artistic and like all of us, trying to figure out how to fully be who he was and live out of his heart. 

And like all of us, Ray didn’t always know how to do that. He moved to a big city, hoping for greater opportunities there to create the life he dreamed of. He worked in jobs that didn’t utilize his gifts and longed for something more. He hid his disappointments behind a sharp wit and oft times, sharp words that effectively kept people at a distance. My heart breaks now as I recognize he sought understanding and compassion and acceptance. 


As he entered his middle years, Ray expressed himself through his art. He dabbled in watercolors and acrylics, creating beautiful paintings. He took an early retirement so that he could focus on his artistic talent, turning to a new passion, pottery. Sadly, a few years later he died, his life cut short by cancer. 

I have regrets about Ray. I wish I could have spent more time with him and known his heart better. I would have enjoyed talking with him about art and the creative life, and welcomed his advice. I would have listened more. Expressed appreciation. Offered from my own heart. 

All those emotions were packed into the words I uttered in my dream, as Ray sat with me…I’m sorry. But you know what? He wasn’t upset with me…for leaving his painting laying in a basket or for any shortcomings on my part during his life. He smiled. He laughed. We talked about creativity and art and living as our authentic selves. It was an inspiring and joy filled conversation, that ended with me promising to retrieve his swan painting and display it. 

Keeping a Promise
I marveled at the dream when I awoke. I believe that often, when we dream of loved ones who have died, their spirits are visiting us. That seems especially true when the encounter is a one on one conversation. I thought about Ray throughout that day…and then promptly forgot the dream and the promise. Until tonight. 

Rummaging in my studio for supplies for a creative project I was about to do, I once again spied Ray’s painting, laying in the basket. I hesitated, staring at the swans. I promised. I wavered between doing something with the artwork…and continuing with my planned project. As I stood looking into the basket, my eyes filled with tears. Ah. There was the nudge, the tap on the shoulder from the Divine. 

It was time to honor my promise. It was time to show Ray that I appreciated him and his art. 

In a few moments I had found the perfect space for Ray’s swans. The painting rests on an easel, on the table near my front door. I will look at it often and think of Ray. 

Keeping a Promise
As I prepared to write my blog post, I suddenly remembered that I had another painting of Ray’s. He gave each of his family members a cup or mug, hand painted with birds or flowers, as Christmas gifts in 1995. I searched through a cupboard until I found the five that he gave to me and my family. My mug has a cardinal on one side and a kingfisher on the other. 

I have never used my mug, fearing I would break it. But the problem with keeping an item safely packed away is that it is forgotten. I don’t want to forget any longer. I washed the mug and brewed a cup of nettle tea in it, to sip on as I wrote. 

Cheers, Ray. Thank you for visiting me in my dream. Thank you for expressing your creativity so beautifully while you journeyed here and for living your life as best you could. I want you to know that I understand now. And I won’t forget. 

Keeping a Promise

Living the Creative Life

I woke up this morning, thinking about creativity and how it is expressed. People ask me how they can be more creative. And others tell me they aren’t creative at all. I believe creativity is more a way of looking at life and living it with authenticity and openness, and less about talent. My thoughts returned to this topic over and over today, convincing me that this was what I would be writing about tonight. 

Living the Creative Life
It is easy perhaps to read a novel or study a painting or listen to a musician pour out his heart through his music and think Wow, this is a work of art. This is a creative soul. And that would be a true thought. Creativity can be expressed through such recognizable endeavors as painting and sculpting, writing and poetry, drawing and photography, writing concertos and playing the violin. 

Living the Creative Life
Living the Creative Life
And…creativity can be expressed in a child’s colorful crayon drawing and lumpy clay vase, through graffiti spray painted on train boxcars and a joke made up on the spot, in the baking of a friend’s birthday cake and any time the words are uttered Once upon a time…

Living the Creative Life

Living the Creative Life

And…creativity is present in a magic trick and fostering animals, in making people laugh and dancing your own steps before an audience of one, in exploring new roads by turning left at the intersection instead of right, in seeing new possibilities in an ordinary object, in creating an amazing party and by dressing up as a clown to sell baked goods at a yard sale. 

Living the Creative Life
Living the Creative Life
Creativity is the soul expressing itself, whether by writing a best seller or sewing little girls’ dresses or building a toad house. It is a way of life. The way to be more creative is to be open to receiving inspiration and accepting those invitations that come as little intuitive taps on the shoulder or a thought that begins…I wonder what would happen if I did this…

Living the Creative Life

Living the Creative Life
Joseph Chilton Pearce said To live a creative life we must lose our fear of being wrong. I agree and add we must just lose our fear period…fear of making a mistake, fear of being made fun of, fear of failing, fear of being ignored. Creativity comes sometimes when we least expect it. It can be unconventional, bold, and exciting in its expression. And it can be quiet, solitary, and scary when it births an idea into your soul. 

Living the Creative Life

There is no right or wrong way to express creativity or make art. It is everyone’s birthright and all have the ability to allow imagination and creativity to flow through their lives, for that is what it is…energy flowing and finding outward expression. The more we stay open to that flow and say “yes” to those nudges and invitations, the more creative we become. We begin to see the world differently and experience life with a sense of wonder and delight. 

In the movie Dead Poets Society, John Keating shares these words with his students, From Walt Whitman, Oh me! Oh Life! Of the questions of these recurring, of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities filled with the foolish, what good amid these Oh me, Oh life? Answer, That you are here, that life exists and identity, that the powerful play goes on and you might contribute a verse. What will your verse be? 

What will your verse be? What will your recipe, sketch, dance, building, joke, song, poem, design, game, garden, speech, outfit, invention, compassion, cheer, story be? 

If it comes from your creative heart, no matter what it is, it will be perfect…and it will be needed. Share your unique brand of creativity with the world. 

Living the Creative Life