The Funny One

In my family there are no black sheep. Instead we take turns in the spotlight. One particular year, Spencer the funny one, was in the spotlight. Spencer is the youngest in my family. The comedian. He had spent the better part of a year with a mysterious illness. He had been in and out of the emergency room, unable to go to work or school. He wasn’t as funny as he used to be. At Thanksgiving that year, there were countless jokes about the frozen turkey’s liver being healthier than Spencer’s was. That was a tough holiday season for my family with Spencer’s illness and two Grandparents passing away. We came to the table, joining hands to pray and instantly each of us began to cry. We just stood there and held onto each other for a while. We were grateful to still be standing. Sometimes that is enough. Sometimes all we can do is hug the walls and hope we make it through. Some people spend their entire lives that way. Not my family.When the spring came and the grass turned green again, Spencer the funny one, called me with an idea. He sounded excited and struggled to find the right words to explain the vision of the painting he could see in his minds eye. This didn’t sound like him. He’s not the kind of guy that struggles over words. He also had not sounded this excited in a long time. He didn’t know exactly how to get started and wanted a hand. It was a relief to hear him sounding healthier. It felt good to be allowed into his thought process. That night, he knocked on my door and together we walked into the garage and he set down his perfectly white canvas and a small red toolbox of paints and brushes. We stood there for a while staring at the blank canvas. He told me what he wanted to do but was doubtful about whether or not he could accomplish this. He referred to the canvas with a sort of whisper as though it had been criticizing him during the car ride over. Together we decided that the first step would be to coat the entire canvas in a dark color then come back in with highlights and lowlights. Spencer, the funny one, liked this idea.The first step seemed simple enough. He carefully selected a dark charcoal grey. Then he picked out a small paintbrush with equal care. He dipped the paintbrush into the small puddle of paint that he had squirted onto the palette. I looked at the relatively large size of the canvas, the tiny puddle of paint and the even skinnier paintbrush and waited for him to figure out that this was going to take a while. He held the loaded paintbrush over the perfectly white canvas, took a deep breath and hesitated. I took a step back to give him some room. He started again but hesitated. I turned up the music, got us each a Pepsi and when I came back, he still hadn’t started. He made himself busy telling me about the song we were listening to. I asked him if he thought he had enough paint to cover the canvas. He thought about it for a second. Maybe not. He picked up that tiny brush again, took another deep breath and once again, he hesitated. The canvas was still perfectly white.I didn’t want to rush him but at this rate we were going to be here ‘til breakfast. I could see him struggling with this but I didn’t want to take his idea away from him. It was his. I understood the struggle. Adding your mark to something so clean and blank is a risk. What if it’s wrong? What if it’s permanent?  So, I said to him, “It’s only paint. Sometimes that first touch of color is the hardest.” Spencer the funny one, agreed. “Sometimes, you just need to start.” I continued, “You know what I do when I’m having trouble getting started?” Spencer the funny one handed me his tiny paintbrush in relief. I tossed it on the counter.“You won’t need that one.”“Really?”“Are you sure you want me to do this? I mean, this is yours, I don’t want this to not be your idea anymore.”He made it clear that I needed to be the one to start this, that I was his only hope. I picked up the small bottle of paint and shook it vigorously. I chose a two-inch paintbrush and handed it to him. All, the while I was talking about how this was his idea and I wouldn’t do it if he didn’t want me to. He wanted me to. So, I did. I popped the cap on the bottle, held it over the perfectly white canvas and squeezed wide circles of thick charcoal grey paint straight onto the canvas. Spencer the funny one let out a horrified gasp. As his Sister, this was payment enough. Shocking him so completely was more than I could have asked for. Then, he threw his head back and laughed like I hadn’t heard him laugh in a very long time. It was a laugh of pure release. It was a thrill to watch, to be there at the exact moment when he finally let go enough to just begin. He was finished with the painting about an hour later and half way through he abandoned the paintbrush altogether, choosing instead, a palette knife. It was never really about the painting. It was about seeing through an original idea. It was about having the courage to start something new even when you don’t quite understand the outcome. It was about trading the perfection of a perfectly white canvas for the chance to express something unique to Spencer the funny one. This is always a risk, even if you are not Spencer the funny one. Next time he is faced with a blank canvas, or a new idea for that matter, the perfection of white will no longer suffice. A little color goes a long way and so do our original ideas when we risk enough to share them. I felt lucky that I got to hand Spencer back some small sense of power in his life. The really great thing about this story is that about a year later, I was sitting in his bedroom with an almost completely finished short film. I was in desperate need of a soundtrack for the film and I was at a loss as to how to make that happen. Spencer the funny one, turned on his amp, messed with the pedal board and tuned his guitar. As he did this, he was making a speech that was all too familiar, “Sometimes you just need to start… You know what I do when I’m having trouble getting started?”Then, he began to play.